We know whodunnit - but why?
March 22, 2014 5:52 AM   Subscribe

I've been hugely enjoying the TV series Cracker recently, and one of the things I like about it is that we see the details of the murder/crime first, and then the rest of the story is about the police and psychologists figuring out what happened, then finally why. Are there any novels that take a similar approach?

I can possibly think of one - Minette Walters' The Sculptress, which also in common with Cracker has a interesting, vulnerable and sympathetic character as the 'villain'. Most novels (and TV/film) I've seen tend to follow a Whodunnit type procedural story, and I'd be interested to know if there are other stories that take a similar tack.
posted by mippy to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Laura Lippman's mysteries tend to do this.
posted by lunasol at 6:07 AM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's been a really long time since I've read them, so I may be misremembering, but I think Thomas Harris's Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs have POV switches between the killers and detectives throughout the novels.

If you're looking for more TV, Columbo and Law and Order: Criminal Intent both do this. The Fall switches between the killer's and detective's POV at least for the first episode (It was a little too intense for me, so I stopped watching after that).
posted by amarynth at 6:16 AM on March 22, 2014

The original for this, the so-called inverted detective story, can be found in R. Austin Freeman's Dr. Thorndyke stories. Not surprisingly, Thorndyke was also one of the first forensic scientists in fiction. As the stories were written between 1907 and 1942, several are available on-line.
posted by ubiquity at 6:40 AM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

One of Elizabeth George's novels What Came Before He Shot Her does this. It is as much about the socio-economic causes of crime as anything else and is a fascinating, devastating read.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:42 AM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and most of the episodes in the Columbo series were howcatchems rather than whodunits (indeed, the first quarter of the show was usually a depiction of the murder and the events leading up to it), though there's less emphasis on forensic science and more on the lieutenant's intuition and wheedling skills.
posted by ubiquity at 6:45 AM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Chronicle of a Death Foretold sort of does this; you know from the beginning who the murderers and the victim are, and you gradually find out why.
posted by pitrified at 6:46 AM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Donna Tartt's excellent book The Secret History does exactly this.
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:00 AM on March 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino.
posted by betweenthebars at 7:24 AM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ruth Rendell novels often take this form
posted by crush-onastick at 8:14 AM on March 22, 2014

Karin Fossum's novels often have something of this sort.
posted by matildaben at 8:31 AM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Rendell (although the Inspector Wexford novels are usually whodunnits).

Benjamin Black's (John Banville's) Vengeance.

The Best American Mystery Stories annuals tend to lean very heavily towards whydunnits (rather a lot of them are from the criminal's POV, in fact).

Austin Clarke's Caribbean novel The Polished Hoe.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:31 AM on March 22, 2014

Yes, The Secret History!
posted by radioamy at 11:44 AM on March 22, 2014

John Sandford books often take this form, particularly the older ones. And his Prey books are a cut aboave most murder mysteries.
posted by fshgrl at 12:12 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Among Golden Age detective novels, the most famous example is Francis Iles's Malice Aforethought. (Opening sentence: 'It was not until several weeks after he had decided to murder his wife that Dr Bickleigh took any active steps in the matter.') Another example is Freeman Wills Crofts's The Affair at Little Wokeham, a more conventional police procedural in which the first half is the criminal committing the murder, the second half is the detective unravelling the crime.

Joseph Kanon's Alibi also uses this device. The novel is told from the murderer's point of view; the first third of the novel is the lead-up to the murder and the remaining two-thirds are spent trying to cover it up.
posted by verstegan at 3:08 PM on March 22, 2014

I came to say Ruth Rendell, and The Secret History. People who liked The Secret History should read A Fatal Inversion Inversion by Rendell. Weirdly similar plot, although I don't think there is any influence in either direction.
posted by BibiRose at 5:58 PM on March 22, 2014

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.
posted by jbickers at 10:10 AM on March 23, 2014

John Sandford books often take this form, particularly the older ones. And his Prey books are a cut aboave most murder mysteries.

I sort of remember an interview with him where he calls his books thrillers, rather than mysteries, because they usually start with a murder from the murderer's point of view so the reader knows whodunnit. Then the books are largely from the point of view of the investigator, with some skipping around.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:05 PM on March 23, 2014

William Harrington actually wrote series of Columbo novels, which, like the Columbo TV series, are howcatchems (and feature Columbo's repartee and characters). They're a bit kitschy as modern mystery goes, but I quite like them myself.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 4:59 PM on March 23, 2014

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