Politics & Mysteries
write about politics because it’s the greatest game
around and it has the most dead bodies. Forget about Hannibal
Lector, his numbers pale beside a Bush or a bin Laden. Or
even a Clinton.
the most part politicians don’t kill with their
own hands. They do it with policies and directives. When
they’re on our side, we conspire to maintain a complete
disassociation between what they do – legislate and
regulate – and the consequences of their acts. Anyone
who makes the connection between a president who orders a
war and the child who dies when a bomb hits his home is a
radical, a traitor, a madman, a lunatic.
it’s a politician on the other side, we suddenly
can see that every atrocity has his personal bloody handprints
views are schematic, unreflective, one dimensional and
dogmatic. Not that there’s anything necessarily
wrong with that. Action requires binary distinctions.
In a mystery (and all the sub-genres) crime is personal.
Hands on. Painful. It has blood and consequences. If some
distant and cool and impersonal act of policy impels the
criminal act, that allows us, the readers, to make the translation
from the institutional to the personal.
Politics offers us something real and vital for the story
to be about. The story, ideally, takes us past the rhetoric
and the posturing, to the reality of the politics. A great
explains why lots and lots of writers would combine politics
and mysteries. But they don’t.
when they do, it’s rarely about politics as policy.
It’s mostly politics as a setting: as the election
hangs in the balance, Dibgy Diggitout must uncover the dark
secrets of the rich and powerful before they cover him! Or:
Hi-tech Harry leads his team of hyper trained Special SEAL
Berets as they rappel through the night from Stealth Hawk
choppers to rescue the president from the terrorist kidnappers
in their secret vault beneath pyramids in a race against
time before the dirty nuke wipes out a Blue State.
the theory may justify my choice, but it doesn’t
explain the choice. The real answer must be much more personal.
My parents were political. Moreover they were intellectual,
which is to say they actually thought that the way people
think determines how they act, as much or more than their
psychology, their primal passions, their toilet training,
their romantic relationships and the degree to which they
are attracted to any of the various deadly sins.
I do too.
collected works of George Bernard Shaw were on the shelf
over my bed. In Shaw’s plays characters clash over
their ideologies, over economics, over sociologies, over
how they think the world works and how they think it ought
to be. I was trained from birth, or at least from the birth
of my literacy, to view action as the result of intellectual
go out as a ten year old and buy the plays and put them
up there within easy reach. Obviously, they came from somewhere
else, from my father. Whom I loved and admired and looked
up to, both in the innate psychological way that we seem
impelled to, like dogs toward their masters, irrespective
of any actual worth on the part of the parent, and in my
full, judgmental awareness when I came of an age to make
objective evaluations and I continue to feel that way now.
I write books that would please him. No matter that he
died seven years before I was first published. I don’t
think that he’s looking down and sighing with pleasure
and putting gold stars in the window of his posthumous abode.
It is enough to know that they would have pleased him had
he lived and it is a deeply emotional thing.
isn’t monofilament. It’s a rope,
it’s the strands wrapped together that make it strong.
did commercials for politicians and worked for a political
consultant. As a practical matter, as a matter of convenience,
in terms of the economics of personal effort, it’s
easier to write about the material that’s at hand.
I like politicians. Even when I don’t like their
politics. They are not nine-to-five, just fit-in and collect
my pension kinds of people. They are out there, on the tightrope,
hustling, facing the slings and arrows, getting slapped with
criticism and complaint, quite as much as any artist or athlete.
There is no job security. They have to go out there every
two, four or six years, raising money, spending money and
performing for your vote.
I do it because I think it matters. As people live and die
when the planes crash and the bombs fall, when the air is
poisoned and prisons are filled, it matters. The truth and
the nature of truth and the methodology of truth, matter,
for their own sakes. Accidentally, and perversely, fiction,
specifically mystery fiction, is the tool that I have available
to me to talk about unreality of our public mythologies.
and ultimately, I do it because it’s what I can