An Argument for Murder Mysteries

I have a confession to make: I love murder mysteries. Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are among my favorite authors. And not only do I enjoy reading their works, but I find the TV and movie adaptations delightful. You might call me a murder mystery junkie.

Now, it wouldn’t be unfair at all to assume that murder mysteries, with their grisly plot lines and often unsettling glimpses of humanity’s fallen nature, would be anathema to the Christian sensibility. Why on earth would anyone want to read a book or watch a movie about people killing other people? Don’t murder mysteries desensitize people to the gravity of sin and death?

Despite all these perfectly valid objections, I believe that murder mysteries are not only morally acceptable, but are actually one of the best literary (and TV/movie) genres available today. This is because, in our culture, where the line between good and evil is getting progressively more blurry–especially in modern books, shows, and films–murder mysteries are in general very clear about right and wrong.

In murder mysteries, the “bad guys” commit murder: a crime as well as a grave sin. The “good guys” figure out who did it and bring that person, or persons, to justice. Even when the sleuths are morally ambiguous and make some questionable choices (e.g. Sherlock Holmes), they recognize that murder is inherently wrong and that murderers should face consequences for their actions. And morally superior sleuths, like Father Brown and Miss Marple, only serve to reinforce the black and white nature of murder mysteries.

This automatically, in my opinion, puts murder mysteries at an advantage over other popular books, TV shows, and movies where the main characters are simultaneously likable and undeniably immoral. But I think murder mysteries have another benefit: They show us just how easy it is to fall into mortal sin. Often, the murderers are not serial killers or psychos but ordinary, generally decent people who committed murder out of rage or desperation, or even to defend themselves or others.

And that is what makes murder mysteries truly valuable. They remind us that we must be always on our guard, that we must cultivate virtue and strengthen our consciences. They teach us that murderers are human beings capable of repentance and redemption, deserving of mercy, while acknowledging that there are always consequences for sin. Most of us will never commit murder (Heaven forbid!), but murder mysteries reinforce the truth that all sins have consequences, whether here on earth or in the life to come.

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