Alice Castle is a former national newspaper journalist turned novelist who lives and works in south London and has been addicted to whodunits since the age of 12.
- Reading a whodunit is the best possible form of escapism. A good murder mystery will lift you away from the humdrum into a world where the worst crime has been committed and all that matters is chasing down the baddie.
- A complicated plot can really give your brain a work-out. Most authors leave enough clues lying around to make it possible for you to solve the puzzle, I know I do. I’m definitely not a fan of books that deliberately mislead you or hide the crucial fact until the last minute.
- On the other hand, sometimes reading a whodunit can be like relaxing into a warm bath. Yes, there’s a crisis, and some distinctly bad stuff is happening – but, no matter how scary and threatening things seem, you can rely on the book’s hero (or heroine, in the case of my London Murder Mystery series) to sort everything out for you in the nick of time.
- Whodunits can help you discover new places or new countries. There are great murder mysteries set in every corner of the globe. I’ve really enjoyed Zoe Ferraris’ trilogy of novels set in Saudi Arabia, and I also love Peter Robinson’s long series of books set in the Yorkshire dales, MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin stories centred around the Cotswolds, or Janet Evanovich’s hilarious novels based in Jersey. My own novels are set in Dulwich in south east London, where my single mum amateur sleuth Beth Haldane lives.
- Whodunits can remind you that good always triumphs over evil. We all have bad days when things don’t seem to work out or when the wrong people seem to be getting ahead. There’s something deeply reassuring about the world of crime fiction, where murderers are caught and always pay for their crimes.
- Murder mysteries can transcend the genre. There’s an image of crime fiction as a little bit less worthy than literary fiction, maybe because it’s so popular. But the best crime books can be as good as any prize-winning novel. Donna Tartt’s The Secret History was a crime novel, though maybe a whydunit rather than a whodunit. Margery Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke is a beautifully written book as well as a great whodunit.
- There’s nothing better than discovering a new writer and finding they’ve written a long series of books for you to get your teeth into. Sue Grafton’s wonderful Alphabet series from California is just about to reach the letter Z, and I’m devastated.
- Whodunits are full of the most toxic human emotions – rage, jealousy, bitterness and envy abound. Reading about these feelings and the devastating consequences of acting on them can function as a sort of safety valve for our own frustrations. Who knows, reading a good Agatha Christie may well have saved the lives of all those neighbours who hang on to the hedge clippers they’ve borrowed for a few months too long.
- A bit like my heroine, Beth Haldane, I love things to be neat and tidy and there’s nothing more satisfying than the denouement of a complicated whodunit, where every loose end gets tied up in a large bow and the red herrings are floundering around, exposed for what they were.
- Whodunits are mirrors, reflecting the anxieties of our times. Agatha Christie’s novels often revolved around money – who stood to inherit after a last-minute alteration to a will. Nowadays, murder mysteries are often about retribution after abuse of some sort. We’ve moved from financial motives to emotional ones. If you want to find out what really matters to people in every age, you need to look at the crime fiction people are reading. The clues are all there.
Alice Castle’s first whodunit, Death in Dulwich, was published by Crooked Cat in September and was number one in the Amazon satire/detective fiction chart. Her second, The Girl in the Gallery, will be published by Crooked Cat on 19th December. Both are available from Amazon.