Who Murdered Detective Fiction?
I love detective fiction, and it’s no mystery why: the mystery of it! It’s really exciting to have this puzzle put before you that you race to solve before the author can reveal it. Detective fiction creates such a dynamic relationship between the author and the reader. As a reader, you are wary of the author’s attempt to deceive you, and yet you are also trusting that they will ‘play fair’. Meanwhile, the author is judicious with what they give away. Not too much so that the reader is disappointed to find they have already solved the crime long before it is revealed, but just enough so that when the ending is finally revealed, the reader will be able to look back and go, ‘Of course. It all makes sense now’.
And as long as the author does play fair, the reader won’t begrudge being outsmarted by the author. In fact, they respect their ingenuity and the surprise of the dénouement. Disappointment or frustration only occurs when the author refuses to play fair: when they hold back information made freely available to the detective or when the solution flies in the face of logic.
Yes, I love the classic detective story. I yearn for its golden age back in the 20’s and 30’s when it reigned supreme. When writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers dazzled with their brillaint plots. Now, the classic detective story has all but vanished. It has been taken over by the ‘crime’ novel. ‘Whodunnit? ’ has been replaced by ‘Whydunnit?’. Thrillers and serial killers – the hot new thing – are strangling the struggling efforts of the classic detective story. And yet, while authors may be turning away from the traditional murder mystery, readers can still keep it alive. As long as the detective story lives on in the hearts of its readers, it shall never truly die.