The Lure of the Mysterious

I came relatively late to crime fiction – later at least than most of my fellow bloggers. I must have been eleven or so when I read my first mystery, one of Astrid Lindgren’s Kalle Blomkvist books, and I guess I liked it since I read it twice – a honour then and now rarely granted. You might think I was hooked, but you would be wrong. My tastes at the time leaned towards adventure (I still remember how feverishly I devoured my mother’s old copy of King Salomon’s Mines – I read it twice too) science-fiction and fantasy. I dug cryptozoology and ancient history too. The stuff I wrote at the time (for I fancied myself a writer) reflected that; one of my « best » stories, now thankfully lost, was about Egyptian gods being revived and trying to conquer the world – it was many years before Stargate, so maybe I should have sued Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich for plagiarism. I also wrote horror stories than in retrospect were truly horrible. Nothing to do with crime fiction, Golden Age or else.

I had my first genuine introduction to the genre not by reading, but by watching the Hayao Miyazaki Sherlock Holmes anime series; I was roughly twelve at the time. I loved this anime so much (I still do) that I logically graduated to Doyle’s original stories. I was bitterly disappointed: Moriarty was nowhere in sight and they were nowhere as eventful and fast paced as the TV series. I read one of two and then returned to my usual stuff. It took another TV show, the Granada one starring Jeremy Brett, to finally make me a Sherlockian but even then I didn’t branch out into crime fiction.

Then it finally happened – and I guess not too soon as far as you readers are concerned. I vacationed with my parents in the little village in the Alps that happened to have many bookstores – that was before Amazon came up. I had lots of time to read and lots of money too, and I decided to try for more « adult » stuff; I was fourteen after all. That’s how I discovered Agatha Christie whom I knew so far only because of the Hercule Poirot movies starring Peter Ustinov. The book was the short story collection Poirot Investigates and I liked it enough that I returned to the bookstore the day after to buy The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding which I liked too.  I also discovered Edgar Allan Poe during this autumn and for a while it seemed that I had fallen definitively on the « dark side » – not only did I read everything by him that I could find, but I proceeded to read all the writers he had influenced, with Maupassant being a particular favourite. My writing once again reflected that – and unfortunately some of it still survives to this day. I still kept an eye on mysteries however and especially the ones published by Christie’s French publisher, Le Masque and that’s how I came to buy a book by a fellow named John Dickson Carr about a man killed in an elevator… The rest is history.

This long introduction, not too long I hope, was necessary to give you an idea of my unorthodox mystery upbringing as it colours my reading tastes to this day. My passion for (fictional) crime came late but it was unconditional and after thirty years has not diminished one bit. I haven’t given up on the stuff I liked as a kid but mysteries are the drug for me. Still, sharing my thoughts with other addicts made me realize that I’m a rather curious fellow. Mystery readers roughly fall into two categories – those who are into puzzles, and those for whom character is paramount. The problem with me is that I am neither. I don’t read mysteries because I want to figure out who did it to whom and how, and neither do I seek to be enlightened about human nature or the evils of society. I read mysteries because I love the mysterious, the sensational – the kid who read Rider Haggard and Philippe Ebly still lives inside me. That’s why I’m most attracted to the baroque-imaginative wing of mystery fiction, from Carr of course to Queen to Fredric Brown. I’m also a sucker for Gothic romances and crime fiction that deals with the seemingly or genuinely supernatural. Crimes with roots in a mysterious past are my cup of tea, hence my admiration for writers a priori not attuned to my tastes like Ross MacDonald or Thomas H. Cook. « Ordinary » crimes with few exceptions don’t interest me, and that’s why with few exceptions I don’t « dig » realistic crime fiction – the other reason being my carrian dislike for any kind of realism in any kind of fiction. If it’s uncommon, if it’s weird, if it’s grotesque then it is for me.

 

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