Why Do People Love Detective Stories?

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I certainly enjoy them, in print, on TV, and in movies.

Many stories that are not framed specifically as detective stories really are. Perry Mason (the old black-and-white shows) are always “whodunnits.”

It’s not surprising, then, that I enjoyed Marco den Ouden’s article about why people enjoy detective stories so much (Foundation for Econ. Ed.)

Most of the article is about den Ouden’s love of Harry Bosch novels, written by Michael Connell, but he advances a general argument, too. Here’s the nub of it:

That is the appeal of the crime novel, of the police detectives on television and in the movies. We see them as avenging angels, as heroic figures who will stop at nothing. We see them as empathetic warriors who, like Bosch, will not let politics or other impediments stop them.

Whether it is Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport or Owen Laukkanen’s duo of Windermere and Stevens, we find in these characters the relentless searcher for truth and justice. –Marco den Ouden for FEE

The search for truth and justice are obviously central, but there are other attractions, too, I think.

  • The pleasure of discerning clues and piecing them together, best exemplified in Sherlock Holmes and the classic “closed room” crimes
  • Trying to understand the suspects’ motives, particularly how different motives might lead to the same deadly outcome
  • Uncovering a dark layer beneath the benign surface of social convention and
  • The chance to immerse yourself in varied social, physical, and historical environments, all while following a strong plot line.

The weakness, typically, lies in the psychological development of characters (except, at times, the detective).

So, what do you think?


1 Comment
  • Dave Schuler
    September 21, 2017

    It could be any or all of those reasons and different reasons at different times. I started reading mysteries when I was a child, discovering Sherlock Holmes and devouring the entire canon, from there to Father Brown, and then to Agatha Christie.

    Series novels like Philo Vance or Mike Hammer.

    In college I discovered Rex Stout, as interesting because of his writing and the characters as for the mysteries. The incomparable prose style of Raymond Chandler.

    Later yet I read Robert Van Gulik’s Judge Dee mysteries, immersing myself in an imagined world of T’ang Dynasty China and Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon Bonaparte stories, set in the Australian Outback.

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