This week is the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of flight MH370, which vanished on March 8, 2014 during what was a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Theories abound regarding the fate of the aircraft and the 239 souls who perished with it.

Hypotheses vary from the sublime to the ridiculous: the plane was swallowed whole by a rogue intergalactic spacecraft; the North Koreans cyber-hijacked it; the pilot wanted to create the world’s greatest mystery by means of murder-suicide.

And how we love mysteries.

From Agatha Christie to amateur sleuth podcasts such as Serial (with 175 million downloads globally since it was first broadcast three years ago), crime, especially the unsolved variety – is really big business, cashing in on that aspect of human biology which makes us hard-wired to want to solve puzzles.

As babies and small children, we love to play peekaboo. Now you see it, now you don’t.

It’s fun, yes, but it’s also about second-guessing predators that, in the course of evolution, would have threatened our survival. Humans have an in-built need to understand cause and effect, and this is part of what makes us so adaptive and inventive.

TV dramas and films that tell stories of child abduction (BBC’s The Missing, Channel 4’s Kiri, and Sky Atlantic’s most recent offering Save Me) attract huge audiences, drawing us right in to a cyclone of fear, mystery and schadenfreude.

We get to experience all the trauma while the seat of our pants remains safely planted on the sofa. Virtual terror with real adrenaline surges and all this without falling victim to the actual consequences of crime. A win-win situation. Or is it?

The popularity of true-crime programmes has been on the rise for the last decade. There are now legions of TV channels and podcasts that satisfy our need to binge on the abducted, the raped, the murdered and the vanished in plain sight.

The more heinous and mysterious the story, the more gripped we become. And it seems women are more addicted to these narratives than men. In part, this may be because women, more often than not, are the victims of these types of crimes and so are more inclined to watch them as a preventative measure (know your enemy).

Perhaps it’s also something about the complex psychology of serial killers and murderers that hooks women in as they attempt to understand their motives and forage for clues in the backstory of the killer’s childhood (a cold and unforgiving mother, a violent or absent father, the death of a sibling, etc).

There is also increasing evidence that we may actually become addicted to the adrenaline hit invoked by stories of murder and mysterious disappearances.

In its most extreme form, some individuals (more women than men) can become so obsessed with the mind of a murderer that they develop hybristophilia (being strongly attracted to someone who has committed serious, often sexual, crimes).

Charles Manson, Ted Bundy and Richard Ramirez (the serial killer known as the Night Stalker) all married while serving life in prison or while on death row.

More recently, Ian Huntley, Oscar Pistorius and Ian Watkins (the former lead singer with the Lostprophets band who was jailed for 35 years for sexually assaulting young children) have all developed cult followings.

The fans they attract are mostly female – despite the horrific nature of their crimes.

While it is difficult to understand the dark niche type of psyche that goes looking for love on death row, it is as clear as day that most of us have a weak spot when it comes to mulling over mysteries in an attempt to solve them or simply just to bask in the knowledge that at least it didn’t happen to us.

In a funny kind of way, maybe it makes us more content with our lot. We may hate our job, be bored by our spouse or feel generally discontented but, hey, at least we weren’t on that plane, or down that dark alley when the killer struck. Be grateful for small mercies.

Murder and mystery have become fairytales for grown-ups. Instead of the story of Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel And Gretel, we have Forensic Files, Making A Murderer and Homicide Hunter. The problem is that there is never a happy ending for the victims in these real-life stories, or the families who live on without them.