Novel Diagnosis

Why some of the most popular mystery writers are actually therapists.

By Susan A. Smith, published on July 1, 2004 - last reviewed on October 28, 2004

Do you feel as if you've learned so much from psychological
thrillers that you could set up your own private practice?

There's a good reason why shrinks often star in mystery novels:
They are often the book's author. Some of the most popular writers in the
genre -- Jonathan Kellerman, Keith Ablow and G.H. Ephron -- took down their
framed diplomas and picked up pens, and their mysteries are infused with
psychological reasoning.

Why do they write? Roberta Islieb, author of the murder mystery
Putt to Death, thinks that psychologists turn to mystery writing because
the two fields are similar. Solving mysteries and diagnosing patients
both require sleuthing, she says. Murder, the stock-in-trade of all
mysteries, is the perfect amalgam of imposed morality and curiosity about
the extremes of human behavior, says Abigail Padgett. Her book, Last Blue
Plate Special, is a murder mystery about a prison psychiatrist and the
murder of a debutante. "Nowhere are the tools for analysis of [murder]
more finely honed than within the disciplines of psychology."

Psychologists and psychiatrists are also big mystery buffs, says
Sheldon MacArthur, who owns The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles. He
believes mystery novels appeal to psychologists because, unlike reality,
they have clear solutions. He says, "In the crime and mystery novel,
absolutes and answers and solutions are found, whereas in real life that
isn't always the case. In our confusing fragmented world, crime and
mysteries give us balance."