Nothing is quite as horrible and shocking as murder. Yet, nothing turns us on more than a darn good murder mystery.
Strange, for sure. But proof that opposites do attract.
When we read or hear about a murder, especially if it involves someone we know, we attempt to learn everything we can. The old who, what, where, when, why. Things I learned in my first journalism class.
So, this digging deeper work is necessary, I said, while knowing all along that it was plain old curiosity that drove me on, too.
All of us, as curious people, are simply drawn to murder mysteries, whether in print, on TV or at the movies. We’ve got to get to the bottom of it, collect all the facts, figure out why, just like the detectives and “private eyes.”
I still recall the heart-pounding movie “Body Heat,” one of the best murder flicks ever made. I was kept guessing the motive right up until the final scene. That’s when it all came together, when the puzzle pieces fell into place, and we all knew that we had been made fools of.
Good murder mysteries do that. And there are scores of real-life, two-hour murder mysteries playing on the cable channels every night. Jean and I watch as many as we can.
Because of their timeless appeal, these suspense shows have made a huge comeback. They’re all over the dial. And they are fun and interesting to watch and figure out.
I’m not psychologically drawn to murders. They’re ugly and inhumane. But I’m intrigued by all the revengeful feelings that lead one person to do to another.
Murder is not a part of our DNA as killing is. We kill to survive. But we murder to get even or to revenge a wrongdoing. It isn’t easy for most people to forgive. Those who are troubled often turn to murder as their choice of revenge.
During my decades in the newspaper business, I covered several murders and trials. I witnessed the police and detectives in action scooping up evidence like vacuum cleaners to make their cases.
At trial, the testimony always was riveting, yet many times repulsive. And that’s what TV murder mysteries do. They turn us on and off at the same time with a host of emotions.
As I grew older, as a favorite pastime, I began to read murder mysteries, both fiction and nonfiction. To me, there was nothing better than those eye-popping page-flippers. The detectives and investigators, whether private or public, were as fascinating and complex as the bad dudes they brought to justice.
During my college and working years, I read the adventures of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes — and many more. Enjoyed ‘em all.
In my prime years, on TV there was Peter Falk as Detective Columbo and Angela Lansbury as super sleuth Jessica Fletcher. They were must-watches each week, along with James Garner as private eye Jim Rockford.
If I’m lucky this year, a relative or friend may give me a good mystery book for Christmas. I’ve heard through the grapevine that Santa reads them before delivery time. The old Santa Boy needs something to keep his mind off work before he begins his long global journey on Christmas Eve.
But, hey, it’s just not me. Murder mystery books sell like hotcakes online and in book stores. There are a lot of us, I’m telling ya, who are hooked on whodunits. And we shell out the dough to prove it.
I think also of all the good murder mysteries I’ve seen in theaters over the years. Paul Newman as private eye Lou Harper, Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, Frank Sinatra as Tony Rome — to name a few of the better ones. By far, though, the best of them all was Peter Cushing as super sleuth Sherlock Holmes. The English actor turned in fine performances that kept us pinned to our seats.
In the movies, the murderers are always a step ahead of the detectives or private eyes, but in the end the bad guys always go down.
So, if you run out of ideas for certain people this Christmas, consider giving them a good murder mystery novel or movie. You’ll probably get a call after the holidays thanking you for such an entertaining gift.
One quick note and I’m out of here: The Auburn win against Alabama Saturday was the most exciting football game ever. Congrats to the players and coaches for an Auburn win that will always be remembered! Like in the hard-boiled detective books, the good guys came out on top in the end.
Ralph Morris is a retired newspaperman who lives near Auburn. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org