The brain is a puzzle solving machine. Give the brain a problem and it will automatically try to find a solution. We are all puzzle solvers by nature. Whether it’s a jigsaw or a Rubik’s cube, we will inherently look to solve puzzles and problems set before us. I can’t walk past a partially finished jigsaw puzzle without trying to put one more piece down and subsequently spend hours attempting to finish it. We have a natural drive to find solutions. This may partially explain why detective fiction is so popular, and even more appealing to most people than jigsaws and Rubik’s cubes. It may be even more appealing because not only does it satisfy the “puzzle solving” element of traditional puzzles, but it allows us to invoke our imagination, be gripped by the suspense of a whodunit, making the puzzle even more fascinating and the desire to reach the “goal” stronger.
Detective fiction strengthens our memory, by changing how we approach details no matter how minor. As the puzzle is being put together we are forced to recall pieces that we read earlier that at the time may have seemed inconsequential but make all the difference in the conclusion. If you take someone, give them their first detective book they probably won’t guess who did it by the end. However, if you continue to give them a detective book a week, it will be amazing how this person can tell you who did it before the end of the book. Their drive to pick up the details and piece them together along with practice at learning what details to remember becomes stronger and sharper. It can be a thrill for many to find out who committed the crime, long before the fictional detective themselves.
Detective novels do not demand emotional or intellectual involvement; they do not arouse one’s political opinions or exhaust one by its philosophical queries which may lead the reader towards self-analysis and exploration. They, at best, require a sense of vicarious participation and this is easy to give. Most readers identify themselves with the hero and share his adventures and sense of discovery.
The concept of a hero in a detective story is different from that of a hero in any other kind of fictional work. A hero in a novel is the protagonist; things happen to him. His character grows or develops and it is his relationship to others which is important. In a detective story, there is no place for a hero of this kind. The person who is important is the detective and it is the way he fits the pieces of the puzzle together which arouses interest. Thus in a detective story it is the narration and the events which are overwhelmingly important, the growth of character is immaterial. What the detective story has to offer is suspense. It satisfies the most primitive element responsible for the development of story-telling, the element of curiosity, the desire to know why and how.
Detective stories offer suspense, a sense of vicarious satisfaction and they also offer escape from the fears and worries and the stress and strain of everyday life. Many people who would rather stay away from intellectually ‘heavy’ books find it hard to resist these. Detective fiction is so popular because the story moves with speed.