There's a theory that the reason why women supposedly read mysteries more than men is because women like the way mysteries set things to rights. I'm dubious about that, since the implication would be that men don't care much whether order is restored. Actually, now that I think about my husband's untidiness and talent for losing things, maybe there's something to the theory after all.
But I'm getting off track. My real purpose is to talk about a couple of mysteries in which things may not be set to rights. We don't see the story through the eyes of the good guys and follow along as they nab the criminals and restore law and order. In these books, we see things through the eyes of the criminal and we are meant to want him to get away with his crime–or at least to want it a little bit.
Dr. Edmund Bickleigh is a bit of a milquetoast who is squashed under the thumb of his shrewish wife, Julia. He has played around for years, but now he's stuck. He's fallen in love, or at least an overpowering lust, and his inamorata will not consider marrying a divorcé. Bickleigh is convinced of his own genius when he comes up with his plan to rid himself of Julia by way of a more lethal (and far less legal) method than divorce. If only he'd listened to his wife's assessment of his talents! Things keep going wrong for poor Bickleigh and he comes up with ever-more elaborate and deadly schemes to cover his tracks.
It's a big jump from the weekend tennis parties and dalliances of the Devonshire village of Wyvern Cross to an assassination plot against General Charles de Gaulle, but strap on your seatbelt, because that's where we're going. Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal is a gripping suspense thriller about a professional assassin, code-named the Jackal, who is hired by a right-wing group to kill de Gaulle, whom they believe has betrayed France by granting independence to Algeria.
We are led to identify with the Jackal through the book's descriptions of his lengthy, methodical and ingenious preparations for the job. We learn a lot about getting fake identification papers and passports, smuggling weapons, tracking a target and laying false trails. This is good educational stuff. After all, you never know when that kind of expertise might come in handy.
The assassination plot is revealed to the French authorities, but not the Jackal's real name or even a description. Now the chase is on. We're introduced to the men who are set on his trail: Claude Lebel, a French police detective, and Detective Superintendent Bryn Thomas of Scotland Yard, who becomes involved when the Prime Minister insists that Britain help foil the assassination plot.
In the cat-and-mouse game that follows, it's hard not to identify with the Jackal, even though he ruthlessly uses and disposes of people along the way in his mission. At the same time, Lebel and Thomas are so often just one step behind and we want their hard work to be rewarded too. The climax will definitely raise your blood pressure, and it's followed by a satisfying puzzle of an epilogue.
I was going to talk about another classic in the sub-genre of mysteries told from the point of view of the murderer, but then I remembered that we don't realize that's what's happening until the end. Can you identify this 1926 novel? If you need a hint, look down a few lines. (If you don't want to have the plot spoiled for you, in case you don't know this book and might read it later, you may want to avoid reading the comments on this post.)
Hint: The title of a book about the book is in the form of a question.