By Margaret Lucke
Why is it that, when crime is so appalling, crime fiction is so appealing? Both as a reader and a writer, I'm drawn to mysteries and tales of suspense. Here's why:
I'm not a fan of fiction where a character, lost in thought, takes 200 pages to pour a cup of coffee. I want books where something happens, preferably something of significance to the characters involved. Crime novels satisfy me because they have a plot and a purpose, a beginning, middle and end. They resonate with storytelling traditions that have captivated listeners and readers for thousands of years. What makes me happy is a good story well told.
2. Crime fiction brings order from chaos
Mysteries comfort me with the illusion that there is order and logic in what is really a disorderly and confusing world. Real life is filled with loose ends, unresolved problems, capricious twists of fate, and wrongs that go unrighted. In crime fiction I have the satisfaction of seeing order restored and justice prevail.
One thing that distinguishes humans from other animals is the ability, and the compulsion, to ask why? Too often real life fails to provide the answers we crave, but as a fiction writer I must come up with explanations for what happens in my story. As I do, I sometimes gain insights that help me make better sense of the world and the people who share it with me.
4. Crime fiction imposes few boundaries
Crime fiction grabs people because it deals with life-and-death matters--the kinds of fundamental issues everyone must wrestle with. But life and death are such vast subjects that the genre offers an unlimited canvas. As a crime writer I can create intimate, personal stories or ones that are global in scope. I can examine the nature of people's relationships with themselves, with each other, and with society. I can probe the depths of goodness and evil. I can set my stories against whatever background I choose and populate them with characters from any walk of life. Crime fiction is a framework that accommodates any theme, subject, or question a writer might want to explore.
5. Crime fiction lets me taste the lives I'd like to lead
Who doesn't sometimes long for a life that's a little more exciting or colorful or adventurous than the one we actually lead? Through our heroes and heroines, crime writers get to experience those lives. When I'm writing, I can be a younger, thinner, braver person. I can travel to new locales, fall in love with ideal companions, and take revenge--on paper, of course--on the kid who snubbed me in junior high or the boss who fired me without cause. I can explore the dark side I normally keep hidden. I can take risks I never would in real life. I can rescue other people, maybe even save the world.
Okay, not always--some days I'm blocked and frustrated, ready to tear out my hair. But I love the way writing crime fiction lets me be creative. It challenges my cleverness, wit, and problem-solving skills. Instead of solving a puzzle, I get to construct ones that will, I hope, baffle readers. I dream up characters and have the thrill of watching them come to life on the page. I can't think of anything I'd rather spend my days doing than write.
Those are my reasons. Why does reading or writing crime fiction appeal to you?