Thursday, May 24, 2018

Murder mystery

Some folks love reading murder mysteries. Swiss-Reformed theologian Roger Nicole was a big fan of murder mysteries. I don't read murder mysteries, although I've seen my share of movies and TV dramas based on the genre.

In general, the challenge of a murder mystery is to make the real killer a plausible candidate, so that when he's finally identified, that will be logical, but to throw readers off the scent by making other characters appear to be more plausible candidates. Sometimes the writer makes the reader initially focus on the real killer, to eliminate him from further consideration. Other characters are decoys, false leads, to confuse the reader. Distract the reader from the identity of the real killer.

Columbo was an exception to the formula. Each episode began by showing the crime in progress, so the audience knew the identity of the killer from the get-go. The fun part was the cat and mouse game between Columbo and the killer.

One variation on the murder mystery is where it's not just a past event, but an ongoing threat. For instance, you may have group of friends or classmates who spend vacation on a remote resort island. That's only visited by boat once a week. After they're there, there's a power outage, so they can't contact the mainland. It then turns out that there's a serial killer on the island. Is he from the island, or is he a member of their group? 

They begin to suspect each other. And they begin to reflect on motives. Did they mistreat a member of their party which would motivate him or her to exact revenge? Candidates for the killer are eliminated by process because they die! Increasingly intense when it's down to three survivors. When it's down to two, the remaining characters know who the killer is, since one of them is the killer, and one of them is not–although the audience may not yet know. 

In a well-written Whodunit, once the reader learns the identity of the real killer, that forces him to revise his interpretation. He had a shifting interpretation as he was reading the story (or watching the movie), but now that he knows where the truth lies, that causes him to reinterpret the story from the outset. He can now see how his first impressions were mistaken. Reaching the end requires him to reconsider the beginning, reconsider each step leading up to the end. For the ending may revolutionize what he thought the prior action was leading up to. 

Some Bible stories are like a Whodunit. Job is a classic example. The reader knows something Job doesn't. Same thing in Exodus, where the reader knows something Pharaoh doesn't. 

Likewise, in Gen 22, the reader is told that this is a test. But Abraham doesn't know that. He's in the dark. 

God's command to Abraham is a temporary deception. Isaac is never actually in danger, but for the test to be effective, Abraham must believe that everything is on the line. The stakes couldn't be higher. Structurally, it's like a murder mystery where the truth is postponed through misdirection. 

Sometimes the walk of faith is like a Whodunit. Deliberately confounding. It may only be at the end that it all falls into place. And that will force us to rethink everything that happened before. Maybe we thought we knew what it meant, or maybe it seemed to be pointless. But now it finally makes sense. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice one, Steve. We’ve been living a few whodunnits these past few months.