Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Is Violence Necessary?

Vicki here, with apologies for being late for my Monday posting. This time it really isn’t my fault. I moved into my new house on May 30th, I am writing this on the evening of June 9th and I do not have internet service. We are up to five phone calls by now, and the person I last spoke to said that I should have service by midnight tonight. We will see. I called them on May 6th to activate my service on May 30th. My bill has already arrived – charges began on May 6th, of course.
When I haven’t been cursing my internet provider (Bell Sympatico, for those of you wondering with whom not to do business) I’ve been thinking of the nature of the mystery, or crime, novel. I hate the phrase “murder mystery.” It is assumed, before one has even cracked the spine of the book, that a murder will take place. I am also not a big fan of the word “mystery” – I much prefer “crime” as in “crime novel.”
Does a mystery have to involve a murder? Why should it? In the book I’m now struggling towards the finish of, there will be no murder – just a suspicious death that the police at first suspect was a murder, only to find that someone panicked at an accident and tried to cover it up. Will my editor buy it – we will have to see. I have written crime novels that are not mysteries. In my standalone novels, no one is trying to solve the murder – frankly they just want to be left out of it. Many novels tell the reader from page one who did it and why. That’s not a mystery – it’s a work of suspense perhaps, a crime novel certainly, but not a mystery.
I was in the audience at an excellent panel at Bloody Words titled Sex and Violence of which Rick was a participant. Leaving aside for another posting the question of why those two words are so often linked, the question running throughout the panel was the necessity of violence in fiction. Is violence necessary, the moderator asked, to show the evilness of the villain?
John McFetridge (whose book title escapes me for the moment and I, being Internetless, can’t look it up – but you can!) asked why an act of violence has to happen in a crime novel at all. I loved that idea and have been thinking about it ever since. All of Canada was captivated last year by the exploits of one Conrad Black. Black, AKA Lord Black of Crossharbour, Lord Almost, Connie, and many other titles, is now serving time in a U.S. Federal Prison for racketeering (In England they say At Her Majesty’s Pleasure – isn’t that so much more civilized?) In the whole sordid Black tale, not a single drop of blood was spilled, not even (as far as I know) was a punch thrown. But the characters were so gigantic that the story fascinated everyone. Black gave up his Canadian citizenship in a very public spat with then-Prime Minister Chretien because Chretien refused to allow Black, a Canadian citizen, to sit in the U.K.’s House of Lords; Black’s wife, Barbara (‘my extravagance knows no bounds’) Amiel, is a harridan of a right wing journalist who can be counted on to blame the underprivileged for all their problems yet who received a fat paycheck from her husband’s newspapers regardless of whether she showed up for work or not. I was about to write “you couldn’t make these people up” and then it occurred to me that perhaps that’s the problem. It’s just too hard to fictionalize Conrad and Barbara, and so writers resort to easily-understood stabbings and shootings and what is called crimes of passion.
What do you think? Could a totally character-based crime novel make it? Or would the writer have to have the disgraced multi-millionaire press baron stabbing someone in the middle of the night?

But before I sign off - You heard it here first – Rick let it slip that his next novel is the beginning of a series featuring a Budgie who solves crimes. The as-yet-unnamed Budgie is forced to persevere despite the interference of his nemesis Sir Nigel Rancid-Goatsmell.

Update, June 11th. Still no internet.


Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

I prefer the term Crime Fiction, too, and am TRYING to remember to say it. Loved your example of Lord Black and the egregious Barbara--they gave me lots of ideas. Evil ones, probably:-)

Rick Blechta said...

I think we should all make a concerted effort to call it crime fiction. I was doing that this past weekend at Bloody Words and mentioned it to a number of authors.

As for comments to your posting, Vicki, I'll make 'em later. I smell a blog entry of my own.

And as Internet guru on Type M, I apologize for the very poor service! You have my sympathy.

Anonymous said...

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