I have written of my deep and abiding love of mysteries on the Free Library’s blog many times over (Exhibits A and B). I just can’t help myself! So when I heard the title of this year’s One Book, One Philadelphia selection, I was really excited. “A mystery! Right up my alley!’ I exclaimed to a colleague. “It’s soooo not a mystery,” she pushed back.
And so a great debate ensued. Is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time a mystery book? Something more? Or something else entirely?
Protagonist Christopher says straight up, "This is a mystery novel." He, like me it seems, loves the concreteness of a mystery, of filling in the gaps, and of solving a problem. It is, he says, "a puzzle."
Traditionally speaking, outside of the standard plot / characters / setting elements essential to all books, mystery readers are given a problem to solve—something’s been stolen, someone’s been murdered, someone else has been kidnapped—and a number of facts on the ground. From there, you (along with your fearless protagonist, of course!) set out to figure out the solution to the overarching problem.
So to that end, and with that basic and accepted formula in mind, I’m gonna have to respectfully (and completely) disagree with my colleague. (You know who you are!) The Curious Incident is totally a mystery! It begins with a crime—and the questions grow from there—and the reader is left searching for the bulk of the book, trying to put the puzzle pieces they’ve been given into place.
What I particularly love about this novel is that the mystery of the murdered dog is just the tip of the iceberg. It is a plot device essentially used to lead Christopher—and we readers—down a broader, even more deeply mysterious, path. We start to question Christopher’s home life, the adults around him, the death of his mother, the veracity of facts he’s been given—everything. I found myself scrambling to put those pieces together as quickly as I could to understand the larger picture, even trying to beat Christopher to the punch. And isn’t that, if we’re to believe him, just the point? "If it is a good puzzle," he writes when discussing mystery novels, "you can sometimes work out the answer before the end of the book."
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is an incredibly moving, brave, and innovative novel. But that doesn’t mean it can’t also be a mystery!
What do you think? Do you consider this year’s featured selection a mystery book?
**Check back every #OneBookWednesday during the Reading Period for some more One Book food-for-thought!**