Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sweet Mystery

Thriller / mystery / detective / espionage books have now won over four friends. What is it about this genre that is so satisfying?

One of them urged such a book on me a few years back. It was 659 pages; hard to pick and tough to put down if plot is your thing. It answered the question and then what but not who cares? It could have gone on in perpetuity chasing its own tail the way our own narrative has us sleuthing along, sniffing for clues down dead-end streets. Throw in a few double-crosses, lame alibis and an heroic moment here and there and we could all become best sellers.

A chapter or two would have said it all, I thought to myself as I drove home from work in my daily car chase, wringing a few words from the wet rag of life and writing them in the dust on my dashboard.

In the end the Maltese Falcon is a hollow bird. There's a hole in the grail. My guess is that some of us see life as a mystery to be solved and it feels so good when we finally get to the last paragraph. It must be that illusion of order, as if Humpty-Dumpty has been put back together again. I accept the mystery but doubt the resolution. I see it as a feeble attempt to make the unknown, known.

It might be said that all novels and biographies move toward the revelatory and are therefore detective stories. But truth is too complex and random to be wrapped up between covers.

I remember an evening with Peggy in Ravenna. We sat in a cafe speaking of the blue mosaics and of those Byzantine alleys and unmapped streets that brought us here. Her eyes were a pool of melancholy and reverie; in an unreachable place that I preferred to keep as a mystery and not have explained. If it were a movie and I was foolish enough to speak it would have been in subtitles muted by a white tablecloth.

Sometimes I fantasize a whodunit when a hand reaches out from behind a curtain. A shot is fired and the henchman flees. An inspector bends down over the body, Who did it, Mac, who did it? But all Mac says is whiskey, I need a drink, the blood trickling from his mouth. That yellow-bellied sonovabitch he whispers. But Mac, tell us and he utters L.B as his head drops.

So now we know, it must be Ludwig Beethoven or Lucretia Borgia, Leonard Bernstein or Lauren Bacall or Elbie, the janitor or L.B. Ipswich, the millionaire recluse or none of the above and maybe he was saying, I'll be damned as he stared into the opaque.

1 comment:

  1. It is a mystery. And then I read John Burdett and his Bankcock series. Damn. Atmosphere, story, literate writing. I hated every minute I couldn't put the book down. And then the next book and the third, and now waiting for the fourth. Waiting for a mystery. OK the detective is a Buddhist, but why wait? I thought there was no waiting. Actually, it's not that there is no waiting, it's that your call is important to us. As is your blog.