One-Minute Book Reviews

April 29, 2008

Why Do We Like to Read Mysteries? (Quote of the Day / David Lodge)

Filed under: Mysteries and Thrillers,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:24 am
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Why do mysteries and thrillers so often seem to dominate the bestseller lists? Why have writers as different as Agatha Christie and John Grisham both ranked among the most popular of their eras? Here’s an answer from the novelist and critic David Lodge in The Art of Fiction (Viking, 1993), an excellent collection of 50 brief essays for serious readers on how the different aspects of fiction (such as irony, point of view and coincidence) relate to the whole:

“A solved mystery is ultimately reassuring to readers, asserting the triumph of reason over instinct, of order over anarchy, whether in the tales of Sherlock Holmes or in the case histories of Sigmund Freud, which bear such a striking and suspicious resemblance to them. That is why mystery is an invariable ingredient of popular narrative, whatever its form – prose fiction or movies or television soaps. Modern literary novelists, in contrast, wary of neat solutions and happy endings, have tended to invest their mysteries with an aura of ambiguity or leave them unsolved.”

Comment by Jan:
Some critics have described the appeal of mysteries in starker terms. While Lodge argues that they assert “the triumph of reason over instinct” and “order over anarchy,” others say that they are at heart morality tales – they represent the triumph of good over evil.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. Though I’ve never been a mystery reader (except once when I had a fever I read Travis McGee but that probably doesn’t count), I have lately stumbled across a mystery bookstore, independently owned, that’s charming. It was only polite to buy something while there; turns out my choice is a mystery “series.” I’ve now read three of them and was wondering why, and feeling oddly cheesey. So, welcome, your comments on why we read mysteries! Now I feel validated in reading more of them. Phew.

    Comment by oh — May 2, 2008 @ 7:39 am | Reply

  2. How did you like Travis McGee? I’d love to do more classic like that series.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — May 2, 2008 @ 10:27 am | Reply

  3. JH: I like Travis, the guy, the character and his
    ‘Lauderdamndale.’ I got through four of the books in a week; two decades later the rest are still on our shelves in various states of yellow disarray (paperbacks). While I am not being book-review-specific, I can say they have true staying power.

    Comment by oh — May 2, 2008 @ 7:47 pm | Reply

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