Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Context for a Mystery

Last night and today MrsDarwin and I threw the two kids in the car and did the 18 hour drive from Austin to Cincinnatti pretty close to straight through, leaving at 8pm and arriving at 3:45pm the following day. It was actually a surprising good way to cover the territory. (We've come to hate flying, because the cost is so high and dealing with toddlers in airports and airplanes these days is a nightmare.)

To stay awake and pass the time, we picked up a couple of books on CD from the library, the first we listened to being a mystery novel: A Place of Hiding by Elizabeth George, author of the Inspector Lindley mysteries that we've watched occasionally on PBS's Mystery.

Now, George is not a bad writer as far as prose style and plot construction, but the problem for me with Place of Hiding was that all of the main characters seemed fundamentally un-likeble, as well as personally disfunctional. This had the peculiar effect of making the solution to the mystery totally unsatisfying. One didn't care that the killer was found, because one didn't like the victim a bit. There was little satisfaction in discovering the motives of the perpetrator because they were so venal and capricious as to be both unguessable and uninvolving. The detectives, the other suspects, the family of the victim, none of them were people one could like very much.

The result was that it seemed appropriate that a murder should take place in this setting, with these people, and there was no sense of satisfaction of the restoration of order in seeing the crime solved and things 'put back to right' as the saying goes. They had not been right in the first place, so why put the back?

It occurred to me that my favorite mysteries (Sayers tops the list, Agatha Christie also gets space plus Chesterton and Conan Doyle of course plus Chesterton as a not-quite-genre add on) all follow a basic theme or restoring order. Some, like Murder Must Advertise actually bring the murderer back to a moral understanding of the universe, others like Gaudy Night and Unnatural Death involve the uncovery and purging of a disordered element from what should be an ordered community.

However, if the moral and social realm presented is one in which it seems totally appropriate to murder one's fellow man, where is the interest in solving the crime? All that's left is a procedural, not a mystery.


Anonymous said...

Hah! Good point.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading your posts.