Enigma: A Foreword
I thought you might like a glimpse of the foreword to the 2018 book Enigma: The Inner Circle Writers' Group Crime/Mystery/Thriller Anthology 2018. To get a copy of the book, please go here.
On the surface of it, a crime story, or a mystery, or a thriller or a detective story should be fairly simple to construct, as they all rest upon a simple premise for the writer: invent a crime, or an incident, and then cover it up with layer after layer of obfuscation and misdirection until you have a package which, when presented to the reader, he or she will have to unwrap like a heavily bundled present before the final exciting ‘reveal’.
That method of writing such stories can be taught: begin by detailing something that has happened in the past so that you, the writer, know everything there is to know about it - and then proceed to add in false clues, colourful distractions and various character misrepresentations until the original event is obscured. You can get some pretty decent stories from writers this way, if they follow those instructions.
You can also advise writers to add in a detective, a character with whom the reader will identify, who will end up guiding the reader through to the end. Fiction presents us with a whole host of such figures, from Holmes to Brother Cadfael, from Lord Peter Wimsey to Columbo, penned by master authors as varied as Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers and G. K. Chesterton. One of the things that is interesting about most of them - all of the ones that turn out to be successful as detectives, anyway - is that they are not quite protagonists: rather than being the vulnerable heroes and heroines of their stories, they are normally the ones who represent wisdom in some form. They are the ones who manage to see through the obfuscations and misdirections right the way down to the bones of the original incident; they, unlike a story’s normal protagonist, often have to know more about what’s going on than the reader.
The appeal of crime stories, mysteries and thrillers has grown ever since the form was invented in the 19th century. Its popularity mirrors the advancement of the kind of society in which we live, in which connections with communities have broken down, alienation has grown, and the world has become a crazier, more subjective place. It is in such stories as these that some modern readers seek to find answers not only to invented crimes, but to the state of things generally. When these colourful detectives find their culprits, some readers rejoice not only in the cleverness of their work, their ability to see through the fog of the fiction-within-fiction that others have spun like a web, but also to relax in the knowledge that wider things can somehow be made sense of, even in the chaotic modern universe. Catching the criminal or coming to an understanding of what happened can be, for some, a relief on a larger scale.
Here in Enigma you will experience not only joy over and over again as complex and befuddling lines of enquiry resolve into simplicities, but you’ll also see what new and experienced authors have done with the format, twisting it in new directions, surprising you in new ways, delighting you with new visions. From the traditional old-fashioned country houses in which puzzling crimes have detained important guests, to grim and disturbing urban transgressions, to haunting thrillers with unforeseen twists, prepare to be entertained and enthralled. These skilful writers know how to bamboozle you, commanding your attention before you are aware of it, leaving you guessing all the way.
But more than that: you’ll often find within these stories a profound understanding of humanity, both its criminals and its crazies, as well as its heroes and heroines.