Mood, Music, & Mysteries

Every mystery lover knows that the theme music for a TV series helps to sets the mood for the viewer. A solid theme song certainly plays an important role in the success of any series. The musical intro adds to the show, evoking a sense of expectation. The right music places you in the specific time and place where the characters “lives,” acting as a prologue to what is about to unfold. Its purpose is to establish the mood of the mystery. You want that music to make the show come alive!

Think of the music for the Mission: Impossible franchise. The original score, written by Lalo Schifrin for the 1960’s TV series, has a pulse raising, heart-beating anticipation. You hear it and you automatically think of intrigue and adventure. That signature musical theme has more than added to the success of the movies based on the series.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation used the music, plus the lyrics, of an established song, “Who Are You?” by The Who. The words were perfect for this mystery series. It posed the questions for the CSIs: who committed the crime—and to the criminals: who are you?

One of the most memorable mystery theme songs for a paranormal mystery television series was the one written for The X-Files—an eerie, spine-tingling composition that got you in the mood for whatever unnatural happenings were going on with Fox Mulder and Dr. Dana Scully. The high whistling sound and the repeated hum-like beat were perfect for the paranormal activities that were going to happen.

We certainly can’t forget the music, played in a slightly off-centered, scary, carnival-style manner that accompanied these unforgettable words:

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call…the Twilight Zone.

That music and Rod Serling’s calm but somehow sinister voice made what we were about to see all the more psychologically terrifying.

The current series The Affair has a somewhat disturbing song, written and sang by Fiona Apple during the beginning of each episode. The song, titled “Container,” is an unreleased composition Apple reworked specifically for the show. It is an eerie tune with dark lyrics, beginning with, “I was screaming into the canyon at the moment of my death; the echo I created outlasted my last breath,” and ending with the ominous words,I have only one thing to do and that's to be the wave that I am and then sink back into the ocean.”

Music is such a powerful part of our lives. It evokes memories and moments. Creating theme music for mysteries makes perfect sense. My vote for the all-time best music theme for a mystery series is the tune that will forever make me think of creeping, psychologically-induced fear—Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette, which accompanies Alfred Hitchcock on the screen in retro TV-land.

What’s yours? Let me know in the comments below!


Kristen Houghton is the author of nine top-selling novels including the best-selling new series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation. She is hard at work on book 3 in the series.

She is also the author of two non-fiction books. Her short stories appear in many anthologies. Kristen is a former linguistics teacher.


  1. Alan Hopper

    Thanks Kristen. You’re right on target with this article. Music and mayhem play well. The music for a series called “Banshee” sounds discordant and off-key which sets the scene perfectly. That is my fav one.

  2. michel ferris

    I so agree that the music for a series sets the tone for it. Good read. Ferryboat

  3. Terry Hickman

    The first three notes of Twin Peaks’ theme automatically put me in a delightfully hypnotized state. Doom…doom-doom… and I’m ready for the weird. Bring it, David!

  4. Carol Kubala

    One old – Dragnet
    One new – Justified

  5. filkferengi

    The breezy, whistled opening theme of “Castle” sets the mood very effectively.

  6. Judy Mullen

    Good article-I could hear those tunes you mentioned. My all time favorite was the Perry Mason theme.

  7. Andrez Bergen

    Very good choices all round, in particular for TheTwilight Zone. And another I’ve never, ever forgotten? Gil Mellé’s theme for the TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

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