I’ve never really been into crime as a genre, but this year I’ve encountered and enjoyed quite a few criminal creations. The ABC’s Marple and Poirot series got me hooked (thanks iview!), and inspired me to read some Agatha Christie. I’ve also read two Peter Temple books: a far cry from Christie, but undoubtedly in the same tradition. All the contemporary crime shows and books have roots in crime’s progenitor, Arthur Conan Doyle, but stylistically and aesthetically, they’re very different. More on Peter Temple soon.

About Doyle, Chesterton, Christie, Sayers et al, there’s a decorum that now makes them seem sterile and contrived, and terribly innocent (not unlike the village of Midsomer). The detective always gets his man, and he always gets his cup of tea (or his opium pipe in Holmes’ case). The villains are frightfully easy to spot: if anyone has a limp, a pronounced Russian accent, and is called Boris, he’s almost bound to be your bloke - unless he's the good guy in a stupendous disguise. The clues are placed with precision for ease of retrieval in the unmasking scene, which invariably takes place in the drawing room, with everyone, conveniently including the murderer, present.

But even with all these now slightly daffy traits, there’s something satisfying about these plots, and in the richness of the worlds in which they unfold. There are also profound observations about human nature. It’s these which make the stories more than puzzles. And it’s these which I suspect constitute the enduring appeal of crime fiction. At their core is a hunt, bloody and athletic, for truth. There’s a primordial regard for justice, an elementary acknowledgment of sin that will not tolerate ambiguities. While crime is mired in the cultural ‘lowness’ of genre fiction, it yet provides a moral certainty that ‘high’ art often fails to provide, something on which the human spirit can feed. While the body count may be horrifically high, so too are the stakes – each death has its echo in the moral universe; each body counts.