The heat index yesterday was a hundred and thirteen. I hunker inside my air-conditioning like a fat toad, but air conditioning can’t drop temperature more than twenty degrees—not enough, in my view.
I am spending too much time reading British murder mysteries from the twenties and thirties. Whatever their other qualities, ebooks are making the classics available quickly and cheaply. There’s a reason that time was called the golden age of mystery.
I like plot. Puzzles, twists and turns. In theory, I know a great deal more about the British system of law enforcement than I do about our own. And a great deal more about their detectives, police and amateurs. Why are we so drawn to crime novels? I think they are basically morality plays—good versus evil. We want the world to be on a scale that we can deal with. And we want the good guys to win. And, I think, we want to feel that as Donne says, “Each man’s death diminishes me.” Of course, there is a great deal of fantasy involved in getting to the bad guy. The victim is more often than not, only a plot device. In real life he is not.
Real evil is very different. And yes, I do believe in evil. I think that there are people out there, that for whatever reason, look at good on the one hand and evil on the other, then choose evil. The psychologists used to speak in terms of sociopaths—bad guys that were formed by environment. Now, the preferred term is psychopaths. They literally seem to have a screw loose.
In Memphis, the town I live near, not a morning do I open the newspaper to find no shootings or stabbings overnight. And the longer, hotter and dryer the summer weather, the more there are. One of my detective friends once said to me that when he makes the scene of a homicide, he turns to the man standing beside him, asks him, “Want to tell me about it?” He said that nine times out of then, he does. Very few actual homicides are what we call ‘whodunits.’ Thank heaven.
So, I hunker down and read mysteries in which the detective is smarter than the criminal, the world is put back in order at the end, and morality trumps evil. I wish it were that way in real life.