Monday, May 29, 2017

Mysteries and the Detectives Who Solve Them

(This blog was originally posted on April 7, 2016)

Photo by Rick Hustead

If I was given a choice about the genre of books I could read and movies and television shows I could watch, and I was limited to just one genre, mysteries/thrillers would be my choice, hands down. For me, nothing is as interesting or thrilling as a complicated puzzle to solve. When that puzzle surrounds human behavior, emotions and motivations, to quote a famous (fictional) 19th-Century investigator, “The game is afoot!”

I don’t know precisely what fascinates me about these stories. A complicated plot with multi-dimensional characters certainly makes for entertaining study. Is the puzzle or crime realistic? Is the “bad guy” as likely to be a sympathetic character as the “hero” is to be potentially flawed or even irritating? The straight-up plot of detestable criminal going toe-to-toe with an all-around saintly investigator does not interest me, nor is it very realistic. People and their motives and emotions are complicated, and I think this should also be true in a fictional tale. 

Referring back to Hypnosis Motivation Institute founder John Kappas, Ph.D.’s Theory of Mind, our behavior is built and based on a series of experiences and beliefs that create the Subconscious Mental Script. It is ultimately difficult or even impossible to imagine an existence that is different from our own or to behave in a way that is out of our realm of experience—until we learn how, that is. I think it was William Shakespeare who once said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (A similar version of this philosophy is also in Ecclesiastes 1:9). Fantastic stories about vigilante heroes who wear long capes or modern-day armor and can soar through the air, solving essentially familiar crimes that center on jealousy and vengeance, are still too “unknown” to me.

If it’s between Marvel Comic’s Batman versus Colin Dexter’s curmudgeonly yet brilliant Chief Inspector Morse or Chelsea Cain’s emotionally damaged Detective Archie Sheridan, I’ll take the detective mysteries, thank you very much. I can wrap my mind around inexplicable deaths in bucolic Oxford, England and the complicated relationship between a Portland, Oregon detective and his quarry, a beautiful serial killer. I have visited these cities and the crimes depicted, while often horrible and grotesque, are still believable. Indeed, when I was working on my post-graduate degree in London, I heard a news report that a corpse had been found buried under floorboards in a home. I had recently started watching the Inspector Morse series on television, and an episode that aired around the same time featured a similar macabre discovery. I remember wondering if art was imitating reality, or was it the other way around.

I also find that mysteries involve a bit of reader-participation, which I really enjoy. Sure, it’s easy to get swept away with the action depicted in a romance or historical novel. But when there is a question to answer or a puzzle to solve, all of my senses become heightened. I understand best through inference and metaphor, so whenever a character does or says virtually anything, I can’t help but wonder about the potentially hidden meaning behind that action. Was that a clue? What does that gesture or throwaway reference suggest? If the prime suspect’s brother created that object, why does he (the suspect) have it in his own home? Maybe that character isn’t really who we think he (or she) is.

Whether I am watching the story unfold on-screen or poring over the descriptions in a book, I can’t help myself from looking for clues about the crime depicted in the plot. I study the descriptions of behavior and I draw on my background in psychology and hypnotherapy training to figure out the motivations of the characters. It is always fun for me to be able to solve part or all of the mystery along with the fictitious investigators, but I actually prefer the ones that I can’t figure out without the protagonist’s detailed explanation.

I believe that in some way, vicariously solving those puzzles helps keep me in shape for my work as a certified hypnotherapist. These stories enable me to use the creative, imaginative part of my mind to identify and apply some of the theories and behavior models I have studied. According to Neuro-Linguistic Programming models I use in my hypnotherapy practice, inflection of the voice or flushing of the skin is a clue to a person’s emotions and behaviors. So when I come across a description of this kind of physiological change in a character’s body, my own behavioral-detection radar goes up. Of course, obviously my work is very different from that of a licensed investigator or police detective. I may only work with individuals to help them achieve vocational and avocational self-improvement goals. If you want help to overcome writer’s block to complete a John Creasey Silver Dagger-award winning mystery a là the Chief Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny, give me a call. However, I’m not the one to call to help you solve the actual crime upon which your best-selling book is based.

Sara R. Fogan, C.Ht. is a certified hypnotherapist based in Southern California. She graduated with honors from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in 2005. For more information about Calminsense Hypnotherapy® and to set up an appointment, please visit
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