Sophie Hannah very kindly gave me a great blurb. Among other things, she says that I am an “expert analyst of the darkest parts of the human psyche.” This makes me laugh because I’m actually a pretty smiley, upbeat person. Why do I find it so enjoyable to write/read/watch stories with tragic elements?

Turns out, the ancient Greeks wondered the same thing.

The Greeks loved tragedy. Aristotle theorized that this was because watching a tragic play purged and purified our own strong emotions, calling the experience “catharsis.” This theory has never been enough for me. Here are some other reasons I like writing/reading/watching crime:

1) I love puzzles. The structure of investigation is satisfying on a primal level. I love when a writer sets up a seemingly impossible situation (whether in the who or the how or the why) and then shows me how it actually is possible, if I just shift my assumptions and point-of-view. I love being in the hands of someone who has thought of something that I haven’t.

2) The exaggeration of real life helps me to see things more clearly. In real life, we are jealous and angry and scared. Crime stories exaggerate those feelings to the point of action, and the resulting sharp edges are full of psychological insight.

3) Acknowledging the darker parts of life makes a story more real, more familiar to me. I know lots of people read fiction to escape into something purely light–maybe romance, luxury, success, humor. I understand the appeal, but the fantasy of such stories makes them less effective on me. The best way I can describe this is with a painting:

This is “Route 187 Downeast” by Thomas Paquette. Tom paints brilliant, beautiful landscapes. Of them all, this is my favorite.

Some people have said to me, “Oh, it would be so nice if only he’d left out the telephone poles.” The telephone poles, and especially that yellow plastic strip anchoring the frontmost pole. But I can’t do without them. This one is my favorite because of them. I look at this painting, and I see a real road, a road like many I have driven. This a real, familiar beauty, not a fantasy. And it is beautiful, even with the utility poles. That’s what’s so moving to me.

That a fantasy is beautiful is meaningless; *of course* it’s beautiful. It’s when there is beauty alongside messiness and practicality and even tragedy that I become full of hope.

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