Few readers stop to consider why they read mysteries. Nor should they. Still, the mystery reader, like the romance, horror, or fantasy genre reader, has certain expectations of mystery authors. Writers are obliged to deliver the goods. Failure to do so could result in a decline in readership and sales, and no author wants that.
What are these expectations? The good news is they’re not as mysterious as one would think!
Readers read mysteries, especially cozies, to be entertained. They want to forget about the real world and spend a few hours immersed in a fast-paced, well written story with a beginning, middle and end that makes complete sense and appeals to their moral well-being. They want to read about murder, yet be spared the graphic detail. They want the suspense without the terror. And if the story includes a little romance and humor, all the better!
Readers crave a story with memorable characters. They want to cheer for the underdog, often an amateur sleuth, as she solves the mystery. They also want to meet a cast of characters who walk off the page and step into their living room.
While readers identify with these characters, they also scrutinize them. This is one aspect that differs from other genres where the reader experiences the story through the eyes of the protagonist. In most genres, readers tend to accept the character’s truth as their own. Mystery readers, however, examine each character with care…and often glee! Is this individual telling the truth? Does her alibi hold up? What does she have to gain by lying? Readers look past the obvious and like any seasoned detective search for the truth.
This brings us to the puzzle. Mysteries are who dunnits. The author challenges the reader to solve the mystery. The reader is actively engaged, searching for clues and red herrings at the same time as the protagonist. This allows the reader to be simultaneously inside and outside of the story as she struggles to outsmart not only the villain and detective, but the author as well.
Many mysteries deal with death. Death in the real world is an at-arms-length experience we don’t understand or want. It defies reason and seems irrational. But in a mystery story, death is rational. What happens can and will eventually be explained. The world inside a mystery novel makes complete sense. The villain is caught. Justice is served. Good triumphs over evil. The story characters and the reader gets closure. Mystery novels are a win/win situation, and that’s why readers read ‘em and writers write ‘em!
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