David Gramm, via the Arts & Letters Daily, on the enduring qualities of the best mystery and detective stories. Says Mr. Gramm,
The most profound and haunting detective stories are, ultimately, not about the tidy solving of a mystery. This week’s New Yorker story, “The Avenger,” by Patrick Radden Keefe, is a powerful illustration. The story traces the quest by Ken Dornstein to solve the case of the Lockerbie terrorist bombing, which killed all 259 passengers aboard Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, and 11 people on the ground in Scotland. One of the passengers was Dorstein’s older brother, David.I would tend to agree. What grips us about mystery and detective writing is the passion of the protagonist who seeks justice, whether inside or outside the legal system. When law and justice align, that is the best of both worlds, but we know that all too often law and justice do not align. So the protagonist must choose whether to be satisfied with law by itself, or to seek justice alone--sometimes truly alone. These are the stories that haunt us.