Revenge stories never grow old. Though as Christians we know that wrath is a sin and vengeance belongs to the Lord, yet we still get a visceral satisfaction from a well-told tale of revenge. Don’t believe me? Go read The Count of Monte Christo. We may deplore it morally, but…well, it feel rights.
This isn’t actually a bad thing, by the way. At least, not as long as it stays in fiction. It actually points to a very healthy and wholesome instinct.
The same instinct can be found, in a much more palatable form, in detective stories. It’s what led Miss Marple, in one book, to declare “Tonight, I am Nemesis.”
Nemesis, in Classical mythology, was the goddess of vengeance, the one who punished those who were guilty of hubris, who challenged the gods.
That is the satisfaction of both a good revenge story and a good detective story. It is the satisfaction of seeing the Truth asserted. Someone has flaunted it. Someone has set himself up to do something evil and get away with it. And someone else has come along and visited his evil back upon him.
Sooner or later, we all sense that the wicked ought to be made to feel their own wickedness, to condemn that in their lives which ought to be condemned. That is why the agent of vengeance in a story can’t simply quietly assassinate his target. Edmund Dantes can’t stick a dagger in his enemies while they sleep. No, they must be made to feel and understand their own crimes, must understand that the thing they destroyed his life to acquire will now become the source of their ruin.
Likewise, it would be no good for the detective to play the Punisher and destroy the criminal himself. He must expose the truth, let the man know that he hasn’t escaped, that his crime is known and that it will be the ruin of him.
Again, vengeance is not something for us to engage in in real life. But in story form it can be a reminder of the fact that sooner or later, the Truth will have its day, and none will be able to evade the reality of what they have done.