I recently enjoyed the breezily erudite and conversational Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books by Wendy Lesser. For many reasons. But chief among them was her undisguised love of mysteries and thrillers that ranged from Wilkie Collins to Eric Ambler to Patricia Highsmith to Henning Mankell with many quick references to other writers of those genres along the way.
"Perhaps it will seem perverse of me, in a book devoted to the subject of literature, to refer repeatedly to murder mysteries, a notoriously trashy form. But quality is not hierarchical. Judgments can always be made at any level; and though there are certainly good books and bad books in the world, they do not line up neatly according to rank, with good books filling the approved high genres and bad books the despised lower ones."
Mysteries have many times brought me back to my usual pace of reading after a slump, and this year has been no exception. I've discovered the Maigret novels by Georges Simenon and have an acute appreciation for the deft psychological portraits found there. I wait impatiently for Penguin to re-release all of the 75 titles in the lovely new editions. And now I have finally read my first two Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers.
Every Sayers fan I know is quick to tell me that if I liked Whose Body? and Clouds of Witness then I will be in love when Miss Vane enters the series soon. For now, I am appreciating all of the marvelous details as well as the unexpected frailties of her protagonist - his post-traumatic stress, his laughable laziness, the trait of goofiness also evident in his mother's character, his own admission that the beginning of cases is so much more interesting than the actual footwork in the middle. I am thoroughly entertained, and have the third title ready to pick up as soon as I finish the new Tom Rachman treat.
As comfortable as I am with ambiguity in a novel's end, there is something wonderfully reassuring about the occasional mystery where you know that certainty will be served with the ending. We are, as Lesser astutely points out, "plotting creatures, we humans, and we like to be told a story that goes somewhere. We like to sense the connections between seemingly disparate events, even though we may recognize that real disparities rarely resolve so neatly. Life often foils us in this respect, with its coincidences and its dead ends. We turn to literature to remedy the loss, to impose some kind of meaningful order on the nonsequential."
Do you read mysteries? Do you feel the need to remedy that described loss?