Can a Murder Mystery Be Comforting?

Well, life threw me a curveball again. One of my beloved brothers passed away unexpectedly and I have been visiting with my mother, keeping her company as she tried to come to terms with the fact that she just outlived one of her children. She has difficulty with her mobility, so we watched a lot of television, sitting companionably in our over-stuffed chairs in front of the flat screen. We talked about my brother, reminisced with my other siblings, and, strangely enough, worked our way through as many of the Poirot episodes on Britbox as we could.

As we watched “Murder on the Links”, we commented on the amazing classic cars, mused about how much mustache wax Poirot went through in a year, and pointed out differences between the television show and Agatha Christie’s book. And then I wondered why we were wallowing in tales of murder when we were both grieving? Why was watching Hercule Poirot bring a killer to justice strangely comforting? And was it inappropriate

After doing a little online sleuthing and talking it over with my mother, I’ve concluded that, no, it’s not inappropriate. Even in the best of times, the body in the library (or the church or the bakery, etc.) is not the main attraction of cozy mysteries. It’s the thrill of solving the puzzles, hoping to beat the detective (amateur or otherwise) to the culprit. In this case, the setting and the story took us out of our sad, normal lives.

According to recent studies, reading can put you in a better place and help a person cope with grief and loss. And, yes, there’s a name for that: bibliotherapy. It isn’t new. The use of books and storytelling to aid in emotional healing has been known since ancient times. In fact, books like The Great Gatsby might have been lost to eternity if World War II hadn’t created a need to comfort soldiers serving far from home.

For my mother and me, Agatha Christie (even in the form of a well-produced television series) was our way to deal with our loss. Escapism was our therapy.

I returned home from the visit with a list of books I want to read. Some of them I know my brother would have enjoyed. And others? Yes, they are cozies.

I like to think that my brother would have approved.

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