Everyone loves a mystery, right? The search for the unknown is often more satisfying than the final discovery of the truth. And that’s a good thing. The quest to discover the unknown isn’t simply a feature of crime novels – or for that matter the criminal justice system. The hunt for the mysterious guides most of science (and is therefore a prominent feature in science fiction).
Like all things in life, the love of mystery almost always gets carried too far. I’m not talking about the obsessive reading of James Patterson (who with 16 books last year must be feeding somebody’s habit) but rather the fascination with the mysterious in human life.
One of the great pleasures of romance is the slow unveiling of the object of desire. The gradual removal of layers – whether of clothing or of secrets – is enticing and arousing. We seek that which is unknown in the other. Mere physical revelation is lovely but ultimately not what we are looking for. We seek the intimacy that only can come from the revelation of the ‘true person’ beneath the persona. Some people resist – preferring to maintain the mystery. They may have good reasons; they may have been betrayed before. Having revealed their deepest depths they may have then had their secrets spread far and wide.
Women are particularly familiar with this though I suspect men are equally or more vulnerable and thus even more reluctant to be open about their true feelings. Shrouded in mystery for so long they might well be particularly sensitive to the light of day.
Of course, entire religions (and every imaginable conspiracy theory) have been built around the idea of mystery. The great mystery is what happens after we die. For an atheist, the answer is simple: we quickly succumb to bacterial decay and insect predation. Leave a body in the sun for three days and you would be lucky to be able to recognize your closest friend (making them a perfect case for the TV mystery show, Bones),
But it is the immortal soul that concerns most people. Again not an issue for me. But still, look at the vast edifices that have been built all around the world in honour of the quest.
And of course, ask any priest – no matter what the religion – why some inexplicable thing could have happened under God’s watch, whether a child with cancer or a massive earthquake killing tens of thousands and they will invariably say: It’s a mystery.
For myself, I’ll stick to the mysteries found between the covers of a book. I find nothing more relaxing than contemplating the evil of man and the vagaries of justice while watching Archie and Nero, or Travis Mcgee, Temperance Brennan, Sam Spade, Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple ply their trade.
It’s almost as pleasant as reading about the discovery of gravity waves or the potential cure for cancer in a simple virus – the mysteries of science revealed in the only world that matters, the real one.
And that’s ten minutes.