Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The saddest thing

by Rick Blechta

Too often we crime writers get caught up in our own plots and either gloss over the tragedy of sudden death or decide the pressure of keeping our story zipping along require us to just move on and not acknowledge that the death of the victim has will most likely create a mountain of heartache for those who cared and have been left behind to deal with it. I know I’m more than guilty of doing this.

On the other hand, paying attention to documenting the emotional fallout that always follows a murder would become emotionally crushing after awhile. I’m certain it would turn readers off. To be perfectly cold about it, in many cases it does slow down the story. We often use the dodge that “the killer must be found!” (Whether we’re consciously using this as a dodge or just a plot convenience is a moot point.) If we did stop and weave the sadness into our plots as a matter of course, our books would become overly depressing. Readers like to be told a good story full of twists and turns, populated by interesting characters, and at the end, all would be explained and the miscreants brought to justice. Real life is so depressing these days that who wants more to be piled on when reading for enjoyment?

Yes, sensitive writers do try to work something of this personal tragedy into their plots where they can, and that can be a good thing, but by and large it’s glossed over.

Now here’s where real life comes into our discussion. I’m sure we could all come up with multiple instances of tragic death that we’ve heard about in only the past week. But as uncomfortable and depressing as it is, maybe there’s something that could be used as a quick snapshot to bring the suffering that is visited on those left behind when a loved one dies.

I have a story I’m going to share and it happened here in Toronto last week. It is heartbreaking, but there is also a sliver of something that is uplifting nonetheless.

Two victims of the shooting down of the Ukrainian flight out of Tehran on January 8th, mother and daughter lived just north of Toronto. Reera Esmaelion, 9 years old had tickets to  a performance of Hansel and Gretel with her mom this past weekend. It would have been her first opera experience and as a budding pianist, she was very excited about it. In the aftermath her father Hamed asked that their seats be left empty to honour them. Here is the result of that request posted on the Canadian Opera’s Facebook page:
“Reera Esmaeilion and her mother, Parisa, had been excited to join us this weekend for our final Opera For Young Audiences performance of HANSEL & GRETEL. We were heartbroken this week to learn of their passing in the crash of Flight PS752 on January 8, 2020 and kept their seats empty yesterday afternoon, in honour of their memory and shared love of music. Our thoughts and hearts remain with Hamed Esmaelion, who kindly shared his family photos, and all those touched by this tragedy.”
Absolutely heartbreaking, yes. But perhaps a similar scene, a mere paragraph or two, would help hammer home the grievous story beyond the recounting of a violent death in a crime fiction story and allow a bit more humanity to shine through rather than racing on to tell our story and glossing over something so important. We owe it to our “victims.”


Marty Knox said...

I agree. But if you are a mystery writer the death of the victim does affect the characters in the book. I do not think empathy is boring or dull. I give my readers credit for knowing how much the family of the victim is impacted. Even though I write classic who-dun-it mysteries the victim is very much a part of the story otherwise the reader would not care. I think that's what makes mystery readers care about the characters in the books, they can relate. My first book was based on the chaos left by a mother's death, the second by a missing sibling's death. I do not take my character's deaths lightly, and I don't think readers do either. Sometimes mysteries can help readers through hard times. I know when my husband died, it helped me to read his favorite series "Bones" and to stay close to him. Now when I read other new books I think how much he would have loved them. Our favorite thing to do was to read our books side by side in the evening. When I read "A tree grows in Brooklyn" which explores a young girl's life after her father died, it was my grandmother's favorite book, I think of how much this book meant to her. It is as if she is sitting next to me.

Rick Blechta said...

You make some excellent points, Marty!

Thank you so much for weighing in on this. Much appreciated!

And so sorry to hear of the loss of your husband. You must miss him very much.