Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Real Reason I Write Mysteries

I'm sometimes asked why I chose to write mysteries. I usually give the conventional answer, about how I like books that set the world right. In the end, the good guys win, the bad guys lose. That's true, but on further reflection, I realize it is hardly the whole story.

My fascination with crime detection goes back to when I was a kid. I was an eager reader of Dick Tracy in the comics. I read Big Little Books about the fictional detective. I listened to radio shows about FBI agents on the Gang Busters programs, and I was also a fan of the Junior G-Men radio broadcasts. I dutifully ordered their badges and whistles and spy gear.

I thought about being a lawman before that idea got crowded out by the prospect of being and airplane pilot. I wound up being neither. After becoming an adult and a journalist, I switched my reading interest to a mystery sub-genre, the spy story.

I followed the adventures of Helen MacInnes' protagonists and those of John le Carre and Len Deighton. I read books about the Russian KGB and the CIA. The first novel I wrote (discounting one I did while still in college) involved the KGB chasing down a defector working as a professor at Vanderbilt University. This was back in the sixties.

I suppose I had a secret ambition to become a spy in those days. I fancied myself as being rather nondescript and able to move about without attracting attention. It was the thought of traveling incognito and ferreting out secrets that excited my imagination. I kept up with the shadowy activities of Cold War operatives, and when the Soviet Union came apart about the time I retired, I started writing post-Cold War novels in earnest.

After a lack of success with several spy novels, I segued into the detective story. My first effort, Secret of the Scroll, became my first published book. I found I was writing about guys doing what I would have liked to do. I made my hero bigger than me, bolder than me, more confrontational. He still thought a lot like me, but more important, he was an action guy, doing exciting things.

That, it appears, is the real reason I turned to writing mysteries. I wanted to experience vicariously the sort of life I might have lived. I'm happy with what I've accomplished in a long career as a writer, but it's fun playing the role of criminal investigator in my mind.

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