What kind of a (mystery) reader are you?

Am I alone in feeling permanently guilty for not commenting more on people's blogs? I am always so thrilled when people comment here, so feel doubly at fault for so rarely commenting elsewhere myself. I do read a lot of blogs, courtesy of Google Reader. (The reader is hooked up here so that it is also Petrona's blogroll, therefore if you look to the right and scroll down, you will see I am not telling a lie when I write that I read a lot of blogs!) But somehow, I only comment on the statutory 1 per cent of posts that I read, fulfilling some statistical observation or other. Most of the time this is because even when I have enjoyed a post I can't think of anything interesting to write Reading about it – or if I do have a thought, I go to the blog and find out that six other people have already written it. Some of the time I just can't face going through all the palaver of trying to comment, crashes, signing in or other slowing-down factors. I am around a bit on the internet (see my Google profile for where) and  I do comment quite a bit at the Friend Feed crime and mystery group (for online discussion of crime novels), but I am aware that a comment there is not the same as a comment at the actual blog itself. I will try to improve.

I don't really know why I wrote all that, because what I intended to do when I started this post was to highlight a discussion at Martin Edwards's excellent blog (Do you write under your own name?) about how one reads a mystery. (It was probably my awareness that I have not commented there for a while, and feeling bad about that, that made me write the first paragraph above!) Martin divides such readers into two groups, "those who like to try to solve the mystery themselves, before the solution is revealed, and those who simply enjoy the story and make no serious effort to work out what is going on." He's in the former group, and of the people who have commented to the post, about half are in each.  Here is the gist of my response:

Martin, I am in your camp. Well I think I am. I started out with Sherlock Holmes and ever since have enjoyed the "race" to see if I could work out the solution before the author. But now that I am (a lot) older and have read so much crime fiction, I am not so sure. For example, I have recently finished a really wonderful book, An Empty Death by Laura Wilson (Orion, 2009). It is such an absorbing book, written by a talented author who is so enjoying the universe she has created and conveying it to the reader, in three main plot lines. However, the actual main mystery at the heart of it is not that difficult to work out, mainly because of the dearth of suspects. Yet I found myself deliberately not trying to second-guess the author, because there were so many aspects of this rich book to enjoy, and I was just happy to go with the flow.

So, eeek! I became of the second category without meaning to. 

On the whole, though, I like to try to work out the puzzle before the author reveals all. In addition, if a crime book is not that well written and/or not a lot of effort has been put into it, I like to guess who did it before the author tells me – to get even! How sad or bad is that?!

16 thoughts on “What kind of a (mystery) reader are you?

  1. Maxine – I know precisely and exactly how you feel about not commenting on blogs. I read lots more blogs than the ones where I comment, and I sometimes feel quite guilty because my comments don’t always do justice to the hard work that goes into the blogs I read. That said, though I know that as a blogger, I’m flattered when I know that people even read what I write, let alone comment on it. I think most who blog understand that it’s not always possible for a reader to comment.
    And I agree that Martin’s discussion was thoughtful, interesting and thought-provoking, as his blog always is. As for me, I’m with you; I like to solve the mystery. I like to try to outwit the author, so to speak. I don’t always succeed, but I like to try.

  2. I’m always thinking when I am reading a whodunnit-type mystery about who did do it.
    And that changes as the plot develops. I get aggravated when the culprit is too obvious. But in some books it’s obvious who did it from the start and then it’s a whydunnit, not my favorite type of mystery, except in L.R. Wright’s “The Suspect,” and perhaps a few others. But I like the puzzle aspect of mysteries going back to my Nero Wolfe, Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot days and I am always trying to figure out the villain(s).
    And, Maxine, I read your thoughtful comments on other blogs and they’re good.

  3. P.S. Just finished the riveting (I lost two days of my life to this) “Thirteen Hours,” and although I was going to move on to Asia and Latin America to complete my self-imposed informal global challenge, I’m now stuck in Southern Africa; want to read more by Meyer, then a few by Nunn, Stanley and Orford. I read your reviews of Meyer’s books. Can you suggest which to read next?

  4. I am so glad you enjoyed Deon Meyer, Kathy. I think you can safely read Blood Safari (quite a recent one, his 5th novel where 13 Hours is his 6th) which is somewhat separate from the other loosely connected novels, and I think you will enjoy it, it is great in my opinion.
    I have read two others by him, Dead Before Dying (his debut) Dead at Daybreak (his second novel) and while they could be read in any order, I think it is best to read the first one first as the main character from the first book is a subsidiary character in the second. (When you read Dead Before Dying you will encounter Benny Griesel again. I have not read Devil’s Peak but from other reviews, he’s in that too.)
    I have not yet read Heart of the Hunter (3rd) and Devil’s Peak (4th) but I surely will do so soon!

  5. Maxine, first — thanks for adding me to your reading list! But more to the point, although I understand Martin’s point I think it’s a bit of a false dichotomy. Sometimes you want to work hard, sometimes you want to be dazzled. It just depends on your mood and the type of book you’re reading.

  6. First about comments: I for one enjoy your engagement in our friendfeed room very much (the room is simply not the same when you are away on holiday), plus the many interesting links you find for us. Friendfeed is some sort of living-room for me where I can ask stupid questions and be a bit more openmouthed than outside because I feel I am among friends.
    With regard to Martin´s post, you have probably seen my comment there. I do all I can NOT to guess the protagonist, but on the other hand I don´t like police procedurals without those important little clues that make all the difference. So of course I have a small group of suspects, but I don´t ever consciously try to figure out whom of these did it.

  7. Thanks, Dorte 😉
    You have an interesting attitude to crime fiction reading – I suppose I am a bit like you on some occasions, but sometimes, I read a book and the minute a character makes his or her first appearance, I just know that he or she is going to turn out to be the criminal. Usually, I am right.

  8. I do so like a good puzzle, with a nice protagonist who uncovers the murderer(s) and motives, rather than knowing whodunnit from the start.
    The one exception to this is “The Suspect,” by L.R. Wright, a wonderful mystery. One knows who did it, but the unraveling of the motive is well-done and sympathetic. Wright was a Canadian writer who wrote a series about a police detective in British Columbia. She beat out Ruth Rendell for an award in the mid-1980’s with that book.
    Felony and Mayhem Press reprinted that book as well as one other by her and does plan to republish more of her writings.
    And yes, I will find the books mentioned above by Deon Meyer, however, first I have to finish a book by Gianrico Carofiglio and one by Claudia Piniero and Sara Paretsky’s latest. I found out about the first two on this very website.
    Too bad real life gets in the way of the reading though.

  9. Among the things I have to feel guilty about (though lapsed now I was brought up a Catholic and we do a nice line in guilt) my failure to leave comments on other people’s blogs isn’t really all that high. Like you I read a lot of blogs and comment infrequently about which I refuse to feel very guilty. Clearly my brain has a maximum output of intelligent things to say and it’s often a very, very low number per day.
    As for the issue of what kind of reader I am I will just say “ditto” to Karen’s comment. There are times when I want to puzzle things through for myself and times when I want to be inspired and times when I simply want to be entertained or immersed in someone else’s world for a while. Happily for me I have enough books on my TBR list that I can usually find the right thing for my mood/level of tiredness & disgruntlement at any given time 🙂

  10. Interesting discussion. I guess I’m with Karen – a reader who likes to figure it out and then sometimes I just like to sit back and enjoy the story. I think I sometimes guess right too. Re comments, I am also a lurker more than a commenter. I plan to rectify this too.

  11. I’m firmly in the second camp. If I manage to accidentally work out the murderer before it is revealed, I’m a bit disappointed. Just finished The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg and worked that one out from a very clumsy clue about a chapter from the denouement. Would much prefer to have been dazzled at the end.
    The astonished feeling of reading the conclusion to “Murder on the Orient Express” as a teenager still stays with me today 🙂
    (btw, I’m mostly a lurker, and feel a bit odd commenting on blogs of people who, like you, I have never met in real life, which is why I seldom do it.)

  12. Great post, Maxine. I like to solve them too, but hate it when in the last chapter or two a new character is introduced who turns out to be the perpetrator. That makes me crazy!
    BTW, am reading The Devotion of Suspect X, an ARC out next February that is a classic old-school whodunit…lots of elements of detail an complexity. I think it’s going to be a great read.
    It’s set in Japan…

  13. I agree about these “cheaty” solutions, Amy! Thanks for the tip, I’ll check out the book you mention…..yet another temptation 😉

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