The Diversity of Mystery

The Diversity of Mystery


By Shane P. Carr
Suspense and Mystery Moderator


©2001, Shane P. Carr 



Over the past month I thought long and hard about what mystery topic I could cover for this issue. As I pored over various books and novels, it occurred to me that the 'genre’ of mystery and suspense is a very diverse one.


When most readers and writers consider the mystery and suspense genre, Agatha Christie, Patricia Cornwell, or Lawrence Block come to mind. Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg.  If we look closely at just about every piece of fiction we read, we can find mystery and suspense. It is something that can be found in every time period, on every SF world, and in every character’s life. 


Let’s take a look at George Lucas’s original "Star Wars" trilogy. Most will quickly define it as science fiction or space opera, yet we are confronted with the mystery of who Luke Skywalker’s father is, and what actually happened to him. This mystery not only adds suspense to the story, but it gives us a plot point that is crucial throughout the original trilogy, and became the entire basis for the next episode one movie. Now granted it was by no means a complex, mind-bending mystery, but it was a mystery, nonetheless.


If we look into many of our favorite stories, we can usually find some form of mystery. One theme found in many fantasy stories is "The Power Behind the Throne," which adds a dimension of political suspense and intrigue. Even in classic mythology we can find underlining mystery. In the King Arthur mythos, we have mysteries involving adultery, the true motives of Merlin, the mystery of who "The Lady of Lake" is.


Holly Lisle did an excellent job of adding mystery to her "Secret Text" trilogy. We were given the mystery of "The Mirror of Souls." Who made it and why? What were the motivations of the Dragons? How did the "Scarred" come to be?  Each of these questions is a mystery to the reader, and the answers are revealed at a suspense-building pace that enhances Holly’s story and adds a lot of depth to the history of the world she created.

Mystery overall is flawed by being forced into "genre" classification. We have seen how mystery shows its influence in many diverse stories. The next time you are in your local bookstore, look for the various forms of mystery. It can be an obvious source, like the latest Robert B. Parker Spencer novel, or an epic fantasy like George R. R. Martin’s "Sword of Fire and Ice" series. As a writer, look at your current work in progress. Think about how a bit of mystery would enhance the story  and add a twist to your plot. You’ll find that it adds a great deal of depth and suspense to your story.