Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Criminal Mystery Genre

There's something very engaging about the premise of a person struck dead by some mysterious hand. It's the duty of the detective and the reader to probe beneath the surface and find out the truth surrounding the individual's death, which often leads to startling discoveries. Of course, murder is not the only crime that can be investigated- there are disappearances, robberies, and grotesque incidents of all sorts. Consider this- a body is found on the railway tracks. A bride disappears from her wedding breakfast. A professor starts behaving strangely. They are intriguing premises for the narratives that follow.

I admit that I'm a sucker for the criminal mystery genre and the many forms it manifests in, from the classic Sherlock Holmes series to Japanese dramas. Other than the captivating premises and gripping narratives, I'm also interested in the character of the detective and the method he or she employs to solve the crime. I marvel at Holmes' keen observational skills and his superb use of logical reasoning to give coherence to a seemingly incomprehensible state of affairs, or else to disprove the accepted facts. This particular quote of him is iconic: "It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

I recently watched the Japanese drama series 'Galileo', which distinguishes itself from the usual detective genre by its concentration on cases with a science-y slant. 'Galileo' is the nickname of a physics professor who uses his knowledge of science to help a police investigator with her cases. He approaches the cases from a scientist's perspective, saying, "All phenomena have causes."

Perhaps another reason why I like this genre is that it provides insight into human nature, whether it be through the criminal, the victim or the detective's personal history. Sometimes people can repress and conceal poisonous emotions. The prospect is terrifying, to be honest. Then there are cases that make your heart break, because the criminal is in fact the true victim of the affair. How does one mete out justice to a person who kills a man on impulse to save the latter's wife from further abuse and suffering? What does justice mean in such a case?

I wonder whether real-life crimes are this intriguing, or complex, or horrifying. Perhaps they are even more so. Fiction is one thing, but when the unknown is right before you, it's hard not to be affected.

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