Of late I have found myself hungry for the delights of old school mystery writing. Cracking the pages of some of these classic works, I feel I’ve discovered something perhaps many of you already knew: they really ROCK.
In the last month or so, I’ve read Agatha Christie (Murder in Mesopotamia and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (Hound of the Baskervilles), and I’ve got more of both, plus a Dorothy Sayers novel, waiting on the nightstand.
Here are a few reasons I think these books have stood the test of time and remained engaging (even refreshing) after so long:
Crime and murder doesn’t equal depravity and gore.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a good blood-soaked, psychological thriller as much as the next girl, but damn is there something lovely about reading a mystery that manages to convey dread and suspense without showing every lurid detail and making every villian into a sociopathic monster who would rape his own mother. These books rely on good writing, the creation of atmosphere and mood, and deft and clever characterization to do their work — and they are the richer for it.
Who dunnit? *bites nails in suspense*
“Who dunnit” is a good question when it comes to old school mysteries. Christie and Doyle knew how to keep us guessing until the very last page – bringing each character under the light of suspicion in turn. In a lot of contemporary crime novels we learn the villian’s identity relatively early and the plot revolves around a sort of dance (classic ‘battle of wills’) between the evil antagonist and the heroic protagonist. In old school mystery writing, there’s a lot more grey area — everyone has something to hide, which makes it much harder to pin down the bad guy (or gal).
My dear Watson
Too right, Holmes — these classic authors of mystery really knew how to create memorable characters. Holmes is an obnoxious bore of a know-it-all and Watson his long-sufferingly loyal compassionate everyman. They are the perfect team, their partnership as endearing as it is enduring. The same can be said for Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s fussy, delightful, always enigmatic but never-wrong inspector. As readers we can count on these characters to take us through the darkness and into the light, and to always throw in a few good surprises along the way.
In short, old school mysteries are wonderful comfort food of the kind I suspect I will forever-after be hungry for.
So, to help me feed my new addiction, I beg not only your thoughts on the delights of old school mysteries, but also the generous sharing of your favorite, not-to-be-missed titles.
Happy reading (and detecting!) 🙂