June 22, 2011 Edition

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A love of mysteries

Vivian Heyl
Staff Writer

Escaping reality is something we all need to do now and again and we all have our coping mechanisms for dealing with the stress of everyday life. For me, that means escaping into the mysterious world of the "who done it" and trying to solve the case before the protagonist does.

I'm one of those people who can't resist commenting on how stupid the characters are in the plot.

"Hey you idiot," I say as the soon-to-be victim falls into the murderous clutches of the villain in the story, "Why don't you go explore that strange sound coming from that eerie, secluded place where several unsolved murders have happened."

Sure enough, in he goes and in the next scene they're zipping up the body bag and taking it to the morgue for yet another autopsy. Notice that in fiction the autopsies are performed immediately and the investigators know how the victim died right away.

I particularly like the shows where the lab personnel, referred to as "squints" in some popular shows, can tell the investigators that the victim was killed with a wood chipping chisel made of titanium steel and manufactured only by one company in the whole world and the killing blow was delivered by a left-handed assailant who had a medical condition resulting in the blow glancing sideways causing the chisel to protrude out of the left eye socket instead of entering directly into the brain.

Though the new science-based who done its are fun, it's the old style mysteries of Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham and many others who drew me into my particular escape route.

I grew up watching Perry Mason pull the solution to who really shot the blond burlesque queen out of thin air and then put the culprit on the witness stand and somehow got her to break down and confess that, yes, she did shoot her and she would do it again because she was having an affair with her two-timing, no good husband.

But it was Miss Marple who has continued to hold my attention. Though Agatha Christie was best known for her detective wiz Hercule Poirot, it was Miss Jane Marple whose sharp eyes and deep understanding of human nature that appealed to me.

I read every Miss Marple mystery I could lay my hands on and when "Mystery" became a staple on the Public Broadcasting network, I again delved into the world of rural English crime.

There was something about the seemingly demure country gentlewoman that intrigued me. Her shrewd understanding of what makes people do the things they do always played an important part in her investigations.

Miss Marple wanders in and out of the lives of those involved in the mysterious death of victims listening to all the gossip and observing the behavior of those who are suspected of having some motive for the crime. She confounds the police with her astute deductions and insights into the crimes, and then just as the police are about to arrest the wrong person, she saves the day by announcing that Colonel Mustard killed Miss Scarlet in the library with a glass of poisoned wine.

Even though these jaunts into the violent world of murder and mayhem are somewhat ludicrous on the face of it, they are entertaining. No matter how bad my problems are, the heroes, heroines and assorted baddies in the mysteries I love to read and watch always have it worse.

How can I not feel elated when the poor heroine who is being stalked by the hereto unknown assailant is saved at the last moment by the brilliant detective work of the tall dark and handsome hero.

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