Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Reason to Kill

Here I sit, at the computer in my house, rather than at the Women Writing the West conference in San Antonio, in a state of suspended animation, waiting for all the shoes to drop.

An appropriate state to be in as Hallowe’en approaches.  And speaking of Hallowe’en... Since I’m either a blogging kind of gal or a glutton for punishment, I’m one of the regular contributors to, which site is composed of mystery authors whose work features food.  There is a blog for everything, isn’t there?  For Hallowe’en, the Foodies are doing a Trick or Treat promotion.  Anyone who visits the blog and clicks on the links to the participants’ web sites will get a treat.  Interesting promotional idea, even if I didn’t come up with it.  I’ll be posting a recipe and entering all commenters in a drawing for one of my books.  Drop by on the 31st and check it out.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

And now to business.  I’ve been following the discussion thread here with great interest.   Charles says a true word when he notes that a good villain is often more interesting than the hero.  In fact, the construction of a mystery begins with a villain.  Or perhaps it isn’t that simple.  A mystery isn’t necessarily about heroes and villains, but more properly an exploration of the nature of evil, if I may wax pompous for a moment.  

I am especially intrigued by books that cause the reader to re-examine his ideas about right and wrong.  We’ve talked before on this blog about the need for justice to be done in a mystery novel, but does that mean that the killer is always caught and punished?  Case in point: Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.  Was justice done when the killers were discovered?  But no.  Justice was done when the victim was murdered, and right was done when Hercule Poirot contrived to see that the murderers were not punished.  Same deal in my first book, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming.  The killer was not the villain at all.

My sleuth, Alafair, very much has her own ideas of right and wrong, which may or may not have anything to do with legal and illegal.  This makes for interesting resolutions to the mysteries, I think.  If the author can pull it off, mysteries can really be wonderful explorations of the human psyche.  Why do people do what they do?  What seems right to one person can do another tremendous harm. Even an insane killer has reasons for murder that make perfect sense to him.

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