By Harriet Lowbridge
Murder mysteries have captivated audiences for centuries, dating back to Edgar Allan Poe’s novel The Murders in the Rue Morgue from 1841. Since then, heroes such as Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Phryne Fisher have established the genre into what we know and adore today. We are constantly drawn back into these gruesome stories of butler’s murdering for fortunes or spouses killing for love-struck revenge, but why?
The simplest explanation is that audiences love a good puzzle to become a part of and solve from the comfort of their own homes. There is an undeniable rush that comes with solving a murder mystery before even the hero of the story can – stumbling upon that one clue just before the hero bursts in and saves the next victim from the clutches of evil. That spike of adrenaline and dopamine is so addictive and will have you hanging off the edge of your seat until the murder is solved. Mix this with the irritation of a puzzle left unsolved and you suddenly have a genre that will never lose popularity.
Murder mysteries can come from any time frame, backdrop or even planet these days. Thus, creating an almost endless stream of inspiration for new stories/series. We can, therefore, explore our favourite genre in so many new and different ways than most other genres are able to. There are no limits on who can murder, and who can solve crime. You can storm the town with Phryne Fisher in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries which follows the detective work of a 1930’s Australian flapper. You can travel across Europe in the 1920’s with Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Even travel into the 24th century to solve the mysterious murders in a world where telepaths foresee and prevent all crime from ever happening with Lincoln Powel in The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. We can, therefore, explore the horrific and inhumane in thousands of different ways and never get bored from repeated stories.
But there must be more still, Doctor Scott Bonn, a professor of Sociology and Criminology, explains that “serial killers allow us to experience fear and horror in a controlled environment”. He describes how we get to explore the worlds of the macabre and incomprehensible from the safety behind a screen or a page.
Much like a car crash, we ”cannot look away due to the thrill of the spectacle”.
Therefore, as audiences we are constantly drawn back to these worlds of chaos, serial killers and car crashes in motion. Bonn likens the pull to the murder mystery to the euphoria of thrill seeking such as rollercoasters. Our hearts race, our breathing becomes shallow and our hormones spike, the thrill of the detective becomes our own in a way that few other genres can provide without cheap jump scares or racy bedroom scenes.
In the modern world, however, the world of murder mysteries is evolving. We have begun to move away from beloved characters such as Miss Marple and to the real world. Dramas and documentaries galore have begun to emerge about real life serial killers that once walked among us and the brave police detectives that helped bring them to justice. Amongst the plethora of new TV shows you can now find, YouTube shows such as Murder, Mystery and Make-Up Mondays with Bailey Sarian, where she discusses the details of true crime stories (solved or not) while painting her face with new make-up designs each week. This isn’t even mentioning the spike in interest in murder mystery and true crime podcasts and documentaries. Our society is obsessed with the gruesome and violent even when it’s not hidden behind the protective label of fiction. Our obsession is no more obvious than with the realisation that even the media for kids is surrounded by murder and mystery. You can follow Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong as they set up their deadly detective agency within their school in A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery series, or even the horrifying events of Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire as they navigate a world of seriously unfortunate events and constant murder mysteries or attacks on their own life in The Series of Unfortunate Events.
It seems to be innate amongst all of us to enjoy the thrill and excitement within murder mysteries. Whether you’re young or old, enjoying the new content or well-loved classics, murder mysteries have a special book or film for all of us, no matter your usual preferences in media. It will remain a beloved genre for generations to come.
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