“I guess I just don’t like murder,” said a friend, explaining why she wouldn’t be reading any of my cozy mysteries. I didn’t argue with her. I’m not very fond of murder either.
Still, at the heart of most mysteries there’s murder, and when I thought about putting some other crime at the center of my books, and even something petty like the misdeeds in Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. I couldn’t do it. I’m afraid murder seemed almost imperative.
Why do so many of us enjoy murder in this odd form—even people like Dorothy Sayers who was a theologian but wrote them and W. H. Auden, a deeply committed Christian who described himself as addicted to them? Auden suggests that the reader may be someone who suffers from the sense of guilt common to much of humanity. In the murder mystery we confront our own heretofore unrecognized guilt at the same time as we pursue a perfect justice.
Says P.D. James in Talking About Detective Fiction: “… some critics have suggested that it explains the otherwise curious fact that the detective story had its beginning and flourishes best in Protestant countries, where the majority of people don’t resort to confession to a priest in order to receive absolution.”