I asked this question in another forum, but never got a satisfactory answer. What draws us to read mysteries?

For me, mysteries, and particularly mystery series, are the literary equivalents of comfort food. Having a bad day, pick up a mystery. Need to forget that the bills-to-be-paid column is longer than the deposit history on your bank account will ever be? A mystery hits the spot. A mystery and a heaping bowl of extra cheesy mac and cheese, but we won't go there right now.

From the time I was a small child I had a fascination with figuring things out and reading detective stories. Just so we're clear, I'm not talking about Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, though I did read them as well. No, I'm talking about times when my mom went to her friend's house for dinner parties and I snuck into the closet to read the husband's stash of true crime types of gritty magazines. I was transported, taken to some oddly safe place. It was a comfortable spot where bad things happened to other people and I had the smug satisfaction of knowing how things would end.

Was I a bizarre child? Possibly. Do I still like to have a challenge when I read a story? Sure do.

I dabble in writing fiction, but have no interest in writing a mystery. My WIP is a cheery (not!)little piece about the survival and relationships of a "minority" group of female prisoners in the Ravenbrueck women's concentration camp in 1945 Germany. I absolutely do not dwell on the gruesome aspects of torture and death, though I do have to deal with these subjects as they were realities of the time and place. I'm much more interested in how these women lived their daily lives and why some made it, but others did not.

Writers will say that stories thrive on conflict and that's what keeps readers on the edge of their seats. True enough. But conflict and mystery are not the same animals. What makes mysteries so appealing? Do you find yourself not finishing books that have no elements of mystery?

Just wondering....

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Comment by Doug Wood on July 6, 2007 at 8:28am
For me, much of the appeal is that there is a dramatic situation with real closure. Not to sound too cosmic about this, but mainstream fiction usually leaves me cold because the characters encounter "raised" problems, like "why did he leave me", "why am I not satisfied", and so on. Resolution is not guaranteed, even if the characters find coping skills. Murder/Crime fiction usually involves "encountered" problems that the character MUST attempt to resolve, even though they may not have caused the problem. Someone is threatening them, or stole their money, or their actual job is to investigate. And there is always a solution, whether it is a comfortable one or not. All that in *addition* to any "raised" problems they have as characters.

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