September 19, 2010

Murder We Read

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 1:11 pm

A legend in the book industry, whom I’m just getting to know, noted that seeing Raskolnikov in my dreams might just, um, suggest something.

We were discussing Russian literature, and it’s true–I really do dream of that ultimate scene of indecision on the bridge sometimes.

Actually, this man was far too kind and well-mannered to say anything, but after revealing the make up of my dreams, I decided that indeed it does say something about me.

But what?

I know I tend toward the dark side, not in my personality (which I think is rather sunny) or the day to day details of Real Life (which include soccer practice, making treats for two schools, homework supplementation, and time with my husband).

But when I write or read, it’s to the dark side I inevitably go.


A contributor on the greatest mystery listserv in the world offered one explanation for why she reads this type of fiction. It says a lot about why I do, too–and possibly you.

Or maybe not? Below please find Margaret Koch’s words. And whether you agree or disagree, please add a few of your own.

Perhaps you’ll even allow me to turn them into a post!

I read because after working several decades as a talk-therapist-type psychologist, regular conversation seems pallid…about the stuff of everyday life, and pleasant, but my attention wanders if the emotional content isn’t intense.  I read because if I try to watch TV, the commercial-to-program ratio drives me mad. I read about murder specifically because ever since Cain slew Abel (who probably was not an easy sibling to like), murder has been the standard for the one act that must be solved and resolved.  It’s more drastic than cheating on a spouse, more final than divorce, theft, bad taste, and in this shallow celebrity-clogged culture, more interesting than which Kardashian got a bikini wax.  And politics will make one crazy, and Dancing With the Stars will kill brain cells because of the inane hype.

Whether it’s a cozy or a dark tale of terror, it matters.  We still regularly kill each other.  Why?  That speculation and the stories spun about it are fascinating.

Margaret Koch is a recently retired psychologist, who’s an avid reader and who has recently turned back to her first love, writing.


  1. I read and write dark crime fiction as opposed to cozies because I have an attraction to the darkness in people. I usually blame that on eight years in Los Angeles, where under all that glitter is a wealth of corrosive darkness. I love the dichotomy of that. But I like it in a crime novel because there the horrible wrongs inflicted on others are righted through justice. The bad guys ‘get theirs’ in the end as opposed to real life where so often the bad guys triumph and evil thrives.

    Comment by Pat Brown — September 19, 2010 @ 2:04 pm

  2. Pat, this is true for me too: the sense that mystery and suspense novels order an ultimately disordered universe. They are a refuge in that sense from the news, journalism, real life–and seen that way, not odd at all for a good-hearted person to gravitate toward them.

    It’s funny what you say about LA–I often think of the song that says, Live in NY once, but leave before it makes you hard; live in LA once, but leave before it makes you soft. Guess not to a real inhabitant, at least not one who dwells in the dark side…

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Comment by jenny — September 19, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

  3. 25 years in TV news made me write about murder–partly because of the grisly details we never put on the air, and partly because some of the personalities I encountered drove me to consider who I’d bump off if I could get away with it. Three of my early mysteries are set in a TV newsroom.
    I’m now a substitute teacher and yes, you guessed it, that’s a setting for a mystery I’m finishing up now.

    Comment by Carolyn J. Rose — September 19, 2010 @ 4:39 pm

  4. Therapy, TV, and teaching–do T’s make us think of murder? Or would mystery readers and writers find it wherever we are?

    Nice to see you, Carolyn!

    Comment by jenny — September 19, 2010 @ 4:54 pm

  5. Well, I have to confess to preferring murder and other crimes with a dark fantasy bent. Something about the fun side of paranormal critters and humans with “special” attributes makes my interest in such criminal activity a little less, umm, creepy. I mean, I have a t-shirt that says “Support Your Local Medical Examiner–Die Strangely.” ;)

    Comment by Lelia Taylor — September 20, 2010 @ 11:57 am

  6. I loved Margaret’s comment too, And I have a preference for fiction that’s not all sweetness and light — except, perhaps, when I have a cold.

    Comment by Vicki Lane — September 21, 2010 @ 10:09 am

  7. Jenny-I am TOTALLY with you on preferring the dark stuff to read or write (in spite of being an annoyingly optimistic, nearly always nice person). I think it is a little bit catharsis–if I can read or write it, I don’t need to create a path for it in real life. But more than that, it is far more mind expanding to me… solving the mystery, thinking about conspiracies…

    Things like romance (gag) or women’s fiction (hit and miss) are things I can REALLY conceive of happening in my life–much of it “I’ve ‘ad worse”, so they just don’t interest me as much… I don’t NEED fiction to go there. I just talk to my friends and go there. I need literature to experience ‘thriller’ or ‘horror’ or ‘murder’ –and I DO love a good brain trip…

    Comment by Hart — September 21, 2010 @ 11:17 am

  8. I completely agree about catharsis, Hart. For me fiction is a there-but-for-the-grace-go-I experience, and it fills that need every time…

    Comment by jenny — September 21, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

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