Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved books. It’s hard to pinpoint just when murder became the main ingredient of my favorite reads. No doubt I cut my literary teeth on Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. I can’t remember how discriminating I was in my childhood, but I must have liked books with horses and concussions, because that’s what I remember about my first attempt at writing a novel when I was twelve. The heroine – loosely based on my young self, I suppose, although I had never had a horse or a concussion – was continually being thrown from her horse and losing consciousness in her quest to chase (or was it escape from?) a bad guy.
Once I entered the senior years of high school, I became a book snob. It was classics or nothing, and my preference was for European classics: Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, Jean Paul Sartre and Thomas Mann are among those that come to mind. (I can recall throwing a Harold Robbins paperback across the room in disgust.) I also let myself read American writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Bellow, plus the occasional Michener historical saga. Except…
Except when I was on summer vacation at my Uncle’s lakeside cabin, when I would raid his bookshelves for the works of John D. MacDonald, Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Dick Francis and Ngaio Marsh, among others. Then it was on to university, my first marriage and some dark days – years actually – in my life, from which I emerged still scorning contemporary crime writers in favor of Penguin classics. My second husband, a charming and brilliant rogue, but a rogue nonetheless, got me back into reading modern novels and I quickly found myself hooked on crime.
My preference soon became mystery series, harking back to my earlier enjoyment of the Travis McGee and Nero Wolfe mystery series. That was reinforced by TV series like Perry Mason, Columbo and Murder She Wrote, followed by the original Law and Order. I shared books with my father, and sometimes others in the family, and our collective tastes ran from The Cat Who series by Lillian Jackson Braun to the Richard Jury series by Martha Grimes and the Thomas Lynley series by Elizabeth George. More recently – which may not be terribly recent by most standards – Michael Connelly and John Lescroart have become my favorite authors, and I now prefer to watch true crime like Dateline and 48 Hours on television.
So what’s my point?
Why would a law-abiding pacifist who even apologizes to flies and mosquitoes when she is forced to kill them (in self defense, of course) be so fascinated by crime? I know I’m only one of millions with the same fascination. Why, when we hate to witness actual violence, or even read about it, do we love books and shows about murder? I’m no psychologist, but I’ve often pondered the question, and it seems to me that it gives us comfort to see the perpetrators of crime found out and put away so they won’t be able to harm innocent people. We want to be able to figure out who did the evil deed and see them brought to justice, and that lets us feel a little more in control of the scary world around us.
Whatever the reason, even though I stray back to classics and will even venture to read a contemporary ‘literary’ novel now and then, I am and will no doubt remain, firmly hooked on crime.
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If anyone is interested in sampling my fiction writing on their e-reader, I’m offering a free short story on Kobo, Smashwords and most major ebook retailers (except Amazon, where I can’t make it less than 99 cents). It’s called Joggers and features Elspeth Watson, one of the main characters in my Highway Mystery series. The three novels in the series are available in both digital and print editions. More information about the series at Proud Horse Publishing.