The murder thing

I'm getting pretty interested in this weird denial phenomenon among some of my fellow writers of "crime fiction." Some of us want to pretend that we don't really have a greater than passing interest in murder-as-entertainment. Never mind that we spend great whopping chunks of our lives thinking about, planning and describing murders, learning the grisly details of the various means and methods (for the first book I had to research arson, asphyxiation, crucifixion, exit wounds, gaff hooks and lobster boats, among other murder-related topics), not mention reading up on autopsies and everything that's new and cool in the forensic world. But no, what we're really fascinated by are the great universal truths and a certain amount of deep emotion. It's just that the murder mystery (sorry—"crime novel") is the best possible vehicle for character development and the expression of human drama. Oy. If you catch me writing a genre novel about meaning, truth and a reason to go on living, please just shoot me.

I'm mystified, sort of, but I think there are two likely sources: first, there's a very strong desire among a lot of crime writers not to be dismissed as mere purveyors of gore. No one (except me, I guess) wants to be thought of as a callous exploiter of sensational crime—even if it's entirely imaginary. Second, there's a great reluctance among some of my crimespace buddies to examine the darker bits of their own psyches—they can write the most blood-curdling things but really, they're just fine thank you very much (dark side? What dark side?). To each his/her own, of course. But I don't think I could do this unless I was comfortable with what it says about me: yes, I hope to exploit my readers' fascination with sensational crime (turns out that I'm kind of fascinated by it, too). And yes, there are some dark, cobwebby things scurrying around in my psyche, and every now and then I like to let them come out and play.


Kate Hinnant said...

I think murder in fiction brings a rush of truth. Not parsed out in a way that we consider to be literary meaning, but sudden, conflicted, and thrilling.

Hey, do you get the Crime Lab Project news via their mailing list? It's pretty cool. I don't have time to read it anymore, but there's lots of forensic juice.

Kate Hinnant said...

Whoops. Preview is your friend. Here's the CLP link:

Jon Loomis said...

What it does is raise the dramatic/emotional stakes to "red alert" almost immediately, and often in the easiest, most gratuitous possible way. My point is that there are other, and maybe better, ways to do that, so there must be something about murder itself that crime writers find compelling. Not murder as narrative tool, but murder as murder.

Marty Wood said...

"Murder as murder"? Aren't you supposed to say "murder qua murder" to maintain your literary cred? I'm just trying to keep up here.

I also think Kate H. posting to a blog brings a rush of truth.

(Too bad I didn't post these bons mot five days ago.)