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Why are murder mysteries so...comforting?

Murder is an ugly business. By its very nature it involves someone getting killed, and often that involves a lot of unpleasant stuff like blood and severed limbs. If given the choice, it’s usually best to avoid murder, and, thank goodness, most of us do.


Why, then, do people enjoy reading about murder? Why do we find comfort in murder mysteries, even though they, too, involve someone getting killed, and often the mess that comes with it?


The obvious answer is that it’s fiction, and we know what’s on the page never really happened. But it goes deeper than that. There are several elements of mysteries that provide that “cozy” feeling:


Community. In most mysteries, murder occurs within a group of people with a shared history—a family, or a community of neighbors or workmates. Often these people have known each other for years, with all the ups and downs that brings. Within these groups we find a full spectrum of humanity: good people, bad people, gifted people, flawed people, funny and positive people, sad and bitter people. In other words, people much the same as those in our own families and communities. Most often, these are people we’d like to get to know and spend time with.


Facing crisis together. The murder is that writhing, hissing snake that is thrown into a room, a horrifying element with which everyone must deal with. In such a situation we see people show who they really are: the bad get worse, the good get better, and few come through it unaffected. Often the group bond grows stronger as connections, loyalties, and commitments are tested. Most readers, of course, identify with the good characters, and are rewarded by seeing them step up to crisis.


Life prevails. Even with the murder providing a grim backdrop, life goes on as the investigation continues.  We get to know the suspects, who contend with other life issues while the wheels of law enforcement and justice spin. Families are raised, businesses are run, friendships and love affairs develop and prosper. We see that these are what makes life worth living.


Justice triumphs. Ultimately, in most mysteries, the killer (or bad guy) is caught and justice is served. That feels good because it doesn’t happen enough in real life for most of us. We all want to live in a world where bad people are held accountable and innocent people aren’t punished for the sins of others. Even the darkest mysteries hold that glimmer of hope for humanity.


So, do you want an uplifting experience? Forget party games, karaoke, superhero movies or waterskiing down the Amazon. Try a cozy murder mystery! (A good place to start is “A Deadly Walk in Devon,” the first in my Walk Through England series.)


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