Saturday, May 24, 2014


I think I must have read thousands of mystery stories in my life. Right now I am taken with Poirot and Nero Wolfe, but I have loved Holmes, and the Dick Frances heroes, Jack Spratt, Marlowe, and dozens of others. But in all these mystery stories I don't think I have ever, not even a single time, deduced the murderer. I am like a child, filled hopelessly with wonder. Most of the time I don't seriously even try to guess, I mean, not unless the author sort of tells me to. I am like putty in the author's hands. If the author says "Think it's this person." I think it's that person. If the author says "Hope that it's not that person." I desperately hope that it is not that person. And I read on wide eyed. Mystified.

But even though I do not have any ability to figure out the murderer in a mystery, I have no problem whatsoever writing a mystery. For instance, here is one. But it goes way beyond that.  I consider most of my blog posts to be a kind of a mystery because I consider most writing to be, fundamentally, mystery writing, at least in some basic sense. A story starts, an essay starts, a train of thought starts, and there are the questions that begin to crystallize in the first words and start to drive it all along like an engine: What will happen? Why did what happened happen? What is the point and meaning of what is being said? Where is this going? How will this all make sense? 

Here, look at what you're reading now. There's a reflection on my reading past, an exploration of the Mystery genre and my relation to it, an expansion of the framework of our discussion. Even now everything grows more and more complicated. What is each new sentence here if not a clue? Isn't part of your reason for reading further on to find out how this all ties together, what point I come to? Interesting ideas are emerging, yes, but what is the story they tell? What sense will bring them all together in the end.

In a detective story I watch as events pile up, mysteries become literal, and clues are gathered and discussed. But I form no solid sense of the meaning of everything until I am told by the brilliant detective himself. But if I were in that story, not living it, no, but writing it, not that I could, not that story, but if I were writing something like it, the feel of everything passing through me, being handled and brought out by me, would tell me where to go. My attention would be on the underside of the story. I would feel it as strands woven together into a rope, not as a single moment of the present moving along.

Sometimes when I write a post here I know what I want to say, and if what I want to say is strong enough, then I have to assemble the clues that make it all so. I have the solution and must assemble the proofs, the trail to it. But sometimes I start and only learn the shape of the whole thing by weaving pieces together. And sometimes I head out as lost as you are as to what I'm up to. I must examine each detail, the cadence, my heart, the quickly decreasing collection of solutions that can still stand in the face of what I have said before, and when there is only one left, I am done.

I will not say all writing is thus. But if you look around in most, ranging vastly beyond the mystery genre, there is some sort of abstract version of a revealed murderer, a detective piecing it together for you, and most of all there is an explanation of the meaning of these things found on the floor of a locked room. Everything is a locked room. The mystery story itself is just writing itself made tangible, turned into events and characters, turned into story, the tools given names.

When I read a mystery I do not read to take apart the magic. I read to ride the magic. And when I write? There's nothing up my sleeve.

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