Hi there. Gerry here. Just want to let you know that plummeting stock markets, reckless politicians, crazed rioters in England—all this bad news makes me want to kill somebody.
So I did.
I didn’t like him. He met a horrible end. I felt much better.
This was in my study, at my computer. I was working on a new mystery novel. I suppose you could say it’s sad commentary on our times when murdering someone is a relief from real life. But that’s not really true. Good times or bad, a mystery novel is always the best escape.
If you’re reading this you probably know exactly what I mean. But you also have to admit there’s something a bit odd about it. When reality is too burdensome, stressful, or maybe you’ve just had a long day, your refuge is a fictional world where most likely somebody is about to, or already has come to a violent end. As in shot. Stabbed. Strangled.
There’s good reason for this, and, no, we aren’t all psychopaths. The people who write these books (look at those smiling faces at the top of the page!) are pretty normal and well-adjusted, as are most of the people who read their books. But we know that there is something in many of us that needs a good murder story.
I’m not talking about graphic violence, as I don’t have the stomach for it. I’m not talking about true crime, where justice often isn’t done. I’m talking about books that give us entry into a world where there is good and evil, cops and criminals (sometimes blended together), where the villain usually gets his or her just desserts.
This is an idealized world, in many ways. It usually includes someone who is a threat to good and law-abiding people. And a hero or heroine to arrive and make things right. For a time—a few hours, a few days—we are in a world where, yes, there is evil. But good (presented in many variations) usually prevails. We’re counting on it.
I once asked Robert B. Parker about the detective novel and the originators of the genre. I thought we’d talk about Raymond Chandler. Instead he started talking about Paladin and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
There is something in us that needs these morality tales, I guess. I know that this week I’ve felt like fleeing real life for the books on my shelf and the story on my computer screen. In those worlds of murder and mayhem, at least, all is well.