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Although there are plenty of mysteries written and published in France, Mexico, Peru, Spain, Russia, and cetera, here in the United States we primarily see those that are written here, England, and the Scandinavian nations and it is those last three styles that I want to talk about.
I say styles, because there is definitely a particular underlying general style that each of these three cultures seem to produce. In the American mystery novel, the reader is thrown right into the soup immediately - shots fired, people dying right off the bat, then the protagonists and antagonists who may or may not have been introduced yet work their way through the novel while offering varying levels of characterization along the way.
McBain, Stout, Chandler, Hammett, Charyn, Burke and many more American mysteries sometimes appear to have a focus on action, but this is really just a vehicle for the exploration of emotional situations that typically use a lot of dialog. This is the center of the American mystery style in my opinion and almost any other American genre style - emotional situation.
What would happen if this type of person saw that type of person do this or say that to this other type of person. What would they do and are they right in doing it? In the end, in many American novels, the ideas of right and wrong get boiled down to a gray sludge that the reader does not even notice themselves relating to because the characters are usually so dynamic and often likable that right or wrong - moral or immoral - lose importance or value in their presence.
Before the actual "mystery meat" of the tale even BEGINS to be explored, there has already been a good chunk of the novel devoted to nailing down the characters and their relationships with each other and their environment. James and Agatha Christie are the first of a great many English mystery writers who pop into mind when I think about this tendency. The English mysteries tend not to dwell so much on the gory details over and over and over again, but more on the intelligent placement and discovery of the "clue" and the almost always unspoken assumption that the good guys are, in fact, good, and that they will prevail.
Scandinavian mysteries are an in depth mixture of both worlds, with extremely detailed characters and character interactivity combined with gritty and usually topical crimes to be solved. The thing about the Scandinavian style though is that these writers are extremely interested in not simply questions of good guys and bad guys but actual right and wrong.
The characters are not only emotionally developed, but also psychologically and often spiritually developed. These characters are operating in a world that has been intricately crafted so as to bring their depths - motivations, quirks, magnetism, repulsiveness - into the light for the reader to sink their teeth into. One quirk I have to also bring up regarding Scandinavian mysteries is the nonchalant disregard for the actual law of the land in place of what is deemed morally right.
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