On Booklikes, preparations have started for this year’s Halloween Bingo. One of the questions being asked is which do you prefer to read, Mystery or Horror?
Neither genre has my heart in the way that Science Fiction did when I was young and it seemed the key to a world where people understood things and overcame problems and generally beamed me up from the dull, drab, irrationally.resistant-to-logic reality I lived in.
Now that I’m older (old) even, I don’t read genre fiction, not even Science Fiction, to escape anymore. I read it to meet the people.
It was never the science in Science Fiction that interested me. I needed it to be right, not careless and too fantastic to be credible but it just something that enabled or challenged or threatened the people in the story.
I’m the same way with Mysteries and Horror. I don’t read mysteries for the puzzle or horror to feel the hairs on my neck rise. I read them to see how people react when things beyond their normal experience and often beyond their control, happen to them or to people that they care about.
The locked-room mystery may amuse me but if I don’t care about the people on either side of the locked door, then I may not finish the book. If I do finish the book, I’m likely to forget what the solution to the puzzle was but remember whether I liked the characters and whether my emotions were engaged.
So, I’m looking for something like Josephine Tey’s “Brat Farrar” which is a clever and innovative mystery but which I remember most clearly for the horse race and for Brat’s memories of his travels.
Or something like Helen Harper’s “The Lost Man” where the mystery is labyrinthine but my enjoyment came from the deeply etched characters of the brothers and the perfectly evoked sense of being in the unforgiving, almost uninhabitable Outback and what being there does to people.
When I choose horror, I’m not looking for the splatter factor or the most innovative instrument of doom, I’m looking for something that shows me what makes people afraid and what they do to themselves and each other when they’re in fear’s grip.
So, I’m looking for something like Michael McDowell’s “The Elementals” where the fear seeps into people’s the way sand on beech gets into all the sensitive places and where guilt is more powerful than hope.
Or something like Joe Hill’s “The FIreman” (or maybe something shorter) that looks at how we give up power to bad people when we’re afraid and how closely fear is linked to difference.
So do I want Horror or Mystery?
Yes. The best of both, please.