Have you read Calico Joe? You probably don’t read such light stuff, but… you do go to those awful movies.
While I appreciate the flattery suggested in their email (at least as it applies to my reading habits), I should come clean and admit that my ‘pleasure’ reading isn’t constituted by endless tomes of heady stuff. At the same time, I’ll also admit that the elitist in me won’t allow myself to be caught dead with certain books no matter how much I might enjoy them; therefore, my iPad is where you’ll find books by Stephen King or John Grisham. With my base interests safely digitized, I can dive into King’s re-creation of the JFK assassination all the while letting you assume I’m busy reading Derrida or Aquinas.
When it comes to my guilty pleasures though, murder mysteries undoubtedly top the list. And I’m not talking about those terrible little books you can buy at Safeway whose plots are thinner than an episode of Law and Order. No, I’m talking genuine pulp mysteries: The Killer Inside Me, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels, James Ellroy’s fantastically bloody and profane American Tabloid novels and even PD James’ mannered Dalgliesh who-dunnits. I like the dialogue hard-boiled, the worldview darkly tragic and the heroes anti-.
Among my recent favorites are Irish writer Tana French’s related sequence of mysteries. I’m reading her latest, Broken Harbor, that came out last week. The writer is superb (my biggest gripe about so many mystery novels), the characters are complex enough to sink your teeth into, and the Irish setting offers a nice twist on the usual noir particulars.
One of the reasons I’ve always like mysteries, besides the puzzle they offer, is the same reason I like Batman. Murder mysteries, whether it’s the author’s intent or not, offer a decidedly Christian window into the nature of things. The characters are complex and know there is no such thing as a good or bad person but that something like grace is the only thing we can hope for. The world is never black and white but gray through and through. And death, precisely because life is so precious, is never something that should go unanswered. Thus in the best murder novels the macabre becomes something like a parable.
Detective Kennedy, in Broken Harbor, explaining his vocation, says it better than me:
‘The final step into feral is murder. We stand between that and you. We say, when no else will, There are rules here. There are limits. There are boundaries that don’t move. I’m the least fanciful guy around, but on nights when I wonder whether there was any point to my day, I think about this: the first we ever did, when we started turning into humans, was draw a line across the cave door and say: Wild stays out. What I do is what the first men did. They built walls to keep back the sea. They fought the wolves for the hearth fire.’
I wonder…what tops your list?