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Mind or Matter: What's your favourite thriller like?

Firstly, huge thanks are in order for the steadily mounting readership of this blog. I am loving the wonderful comments and feedback from readers, especially from my friends on my LinkedIn author page.

I just finished reading Keigo Higashino's Malice. And I am still in awe. And the book is also the inspiration behind my blog this week.

The book is about an author Hidaka who gets killed in his study in Japan a couple of days before he is ready to migrate to Canada with his second wife Rie, the first having died some years back in a car accident. Shortly before his death that evening, the author was visited by his friend from middle school, Nonoguchi, who happens to be an author of children's fiction, and the sister of another friend of theirs, Masaya, from the same school on whose not-so-glorious life Hidaka's last book was based. The sister has been demanding an apology and a complete re-write of the book, removing all references to the family. The detective Kaga soon discovers perplexing details about the authors, their relationships, and their past. The book is narrated in the form of journal accounts of Kaga and Nonoguchi. I will not give away any more.

What I found fascinating about Malice is that, by the halfway mark, Kaga, and in turn, the reader, is convinced of the identity of the killer. But, what makes Malice such a masterpiece is the next half, which deals with how Kaga establishes the motive of the crime.  And this is where Higashino gets into the psyche of his characters like only he can. We saw it in The Devotion of Suspect X as well. 

Malice turns into a masterclass of criminal psychology. Every incident, every human action, every piece of evidence the detective discovers is given a fresh perspective, a stunningly different explanation every few pages.

And that's a personal favourite for me, when it comes to thrillers as a genre.

There are several interesting stories where the detectives use advanced forensics to crack a case. Look no further than the CSI series, for example. DNA is such a tell-all. DNA swabs from the victim's body parts, hair samples of the attacker, skin tissues detected under nails of rape and murder victims as they try to resist attacks - all these can give away culprits quite easily.

(It's a different matter, though, that in India, examples of cases where DNA profiling has been used successfully with due recognition by courts of law are few and far between. The forensic labs have huge backlogs. There are often not enough testers. Defence lawyers often raise questions around handling of samples and preservation techniques. Chances of false positives are high and findings from DNA profiling are often ruled out. Also, there is no national database of DNA records which makes matching an even more difficult proposition. And then of course there is the larger question of the suspect's constitutional rights.)

However, my personal interest lies more in stories that have to do with the intricate workings of the human mind - often unpredictable to our own selves. As they say, there is a killer lurking in each one of us. And we ourselves don't know when we will kill. 

As I was reading Malice, I was being reminded constantly of Agatha Christie and Poirot. Poirot himself derides such methods as examining footprints, collecting cigarette ash, searching for clues with a magnifying glass, or taking fingerprints. He says any crime can be solved with simply placing the puzzle pieces correctly. He is an armchair detective -- he has to simply "sit still in an armchair and think". In fact, in the Agatha Christie classic 'The Clocks', Poirot reaches the site of the crime at the fag end of the novel and quite literally solves the case sitting in his London apartment based on detailed accounts of the interrogation of people in the neighbourhood of the house where the crime was committed.

In the process, such stories for me are much more than thrillers! They are stories of human emotions and how they can drive us to the edge making us do the unthinkable. How we allow our inner devils to ruin us.

Tell me what turns you on more in a thriller - methodical forensics study and intelligent analysis of material evidence to solve a case, or, a dive into the darkest recesses of the human mind to find answers to unprecedented behaviour when our inner devils push us to the edge?


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