Why is it that the ‘whodunit’ is such a popular format for stories?

Why is it that we always devour that type of story where we follow the adventures of a central character as they chase down a killer in one way or another?

Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Alex Cross, Kay Scarpetta and any number of others are presented with a murder and they slowly but surely put all of the pieces together until eventually they unmask the guilty party, and justice is served.

Puzzles and questions enthrall us as a species. We all want to understand, to recognise the way that things fit together and how things work. From the days when the human race didn’t know where the sun went at night to trying to comprehend the function and make up of the molecules which make up the universe, the human race has an almost unquenchable thirst for answers.

And it isn’t just the big questions that we’re chasing down. Almost any puzzle which presents itself is just something that can’t be left alone. What was that song that was playing when you were in the pub the other night? How are magic tricks completed? How exactly does that Chinese finger puzzle actually work? We are confronted by challenges every day that make us think and force us to try and create routes through the mess of reality to the point we need. Some people are better at it than others but in all of the examples of detectives in stories, they seem to have an almost supernatural ability to put the pieces together where no-one else is even able to recognise a connection.

Maybe that’s the point? We see the ability to create order from the noise as important. We understand that a way to find those answers by methodically putting the pieces together can help us uncover almost anything to make our lives better. To have access to the answers can elevate us beyond the masses and that can mean all manner of great things. Thousands of years ago, having the knowledge of the nature of the universe opened doors, it didn’t matter that the knowledge was incorrect, the fact that no-one else knew meant that those who were showing a greater ability to piece together the puzzle were revered.

I like puzzles. They intrigue me. They make me have to stretch my mind to try and resolve the problem and it feels great when I reach the solution. Maybe we all have that detective in us in some way.

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