Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Like a Fine Wine

Mystery is meant to be historical.

Yes, that is a biased statement and I'm sticking to it.

Modern mysteries, in my opinion, are faulty and feeble. A mystery is only as good as its setting. Setting, is everything in mystery. There's something about the creaks in the maid's quarters, or the blow of the master's curtains in his suite as he lies awake taunted by what has surpassed-the knife gleaming inside his mind, inside the right-hand draw in the desk in the study.

Maybe because I grew up playing Clue any rainy day chance I got, but modern mysteries seem so-bland.

Historical mysteries have a certain texture to them. There's layers of class structure, family dynasties, and old-school inspector quips that make the book hum as you turn its pages quicker and quicker with each increasing clue to the final ah-ha.

I first fell in love with the genre when I stumble upon Kate Ross and good ol' Julian Kestrel. Her world was fascinating as I followed Julian to one grand murder after another. Only four books made it into Miss Ross's life before she was taken from us, dying of cancer in 1998. Almost as sad as when Harry Potter ended, my travels with Julian were ones I never wished to end.

Since then, I'm very skeptical when it comes to my next historical mystery. The covers are clever tricks: an ominous lamp post, a dark cobblestone with a silhouetted figure at the end-a calligraphy title, promising you the world-the historical world.

As an avid book shopper, the key to success is to read the first 5 pages, if you have more time I advise a chapter then-especially with historical mysteries. You have to get a feel for the right texture the novel should have. Smooth-smooth as a baby's bottom. The opening should ease you in and the hook (the murder) should be the first event of the novel without you even knowing it's the murder. Therefore, when the next chapter is introduced in real time, you realize that flashback was just that-a flashback. Throughout the rest of the novel you will continue to look back on this not-so-insignificant exposition.

Exposition. Well-done historical mysteries have the best openings more so. Like a great play, the curtains rise and you immediately find yourself inside-like a closed cardboard box: imagination has taken over.


But I have finally found a good historical gem. "A Death in Vienna" is so far turning out to be quite fascinating because psychology, the birth of Freud's psychoanalysis, is part of the historical background. Freud, himself, even shares a scene with one of our main characters. Introducing psychology and the importance it could have with an investigation in this novel is like reading antique CSI: Las Vegas (not Miami-NEVER Miami).

Grisham is Liebermann (the doctor consulted by his good friend Detective Rheinhardt). He speaks with each of the suspects, or suspicious affiliates to the victim, in a nonchalant manner, asking questions that appear seemingly innocent and small-talk but are rather revealing when analyze later and deduce to the next step in the murder.

Psychology has been a academic hobby of mine. Learning here and there on my own, I was inspired to continue learning after taking a psychology course in the human personality. The world of psychology is an intricate web of calculated estimates and theories. Never perfect nor predictable, the human mind is a labyrinth that psychologists spend their entire life trying to navigate. Now, throw that puppy into the great historic intricacies of Vienna, circa 1902, the hub of enlightenment, and I'm so there.


So find that fireplace in your imagination. Curl up next to it, and read a historical mystery.

Billiard Room, Mrs. White, with the rope. Don't let her sweet maid uniform fool ya.


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