Kate Flora, here, and yes, I really did mean that crime can be comforting. Let me begin with a story.
Several years ago…fifteen, to be more precise…we suffered a terrible national tragedy on a day in September when terrorists flew airplanes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Shortly after that event, my friend Hallie Ephron had a book launch planned. She arrived at the book party a little bit late, and a little bit frustrated, having just come from doing a radio interview. In the course of that interview, the interviewer had challenged the legitimacy of holding the launch of a crime novel at such a terrible time. Didn’t Hallie feel guilty, the interviewer inquired, about promoting fiction that profits from violence and death?
Hallie’s reply was brilliant, and correct. She said that we should all wish that the real world was more like the world of a crime novel, where good guys triumph, bad guys get caught, and moral order is restored to the world.
I don’t know about you, but I am feeling a great need for order and comfort and morality right now. Which is why I am suggesting that you join me in taking refuge in reading crime novels.
It really doesn’t matter which corner of the big crime-writing tent you choose. Maybe you lean toward romantic suspense, with that double happy ending of crime solved or dastardly deed averted and a bit of happy ever after. Or perhaps you like the shoot ‘em up, beat ‘em up, casual violence of a Paladin like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, books which provide a reliably American hero to root for who will always step up for the underdog. Maybe you like the mind-game contests between the investigators and the diabolical bad guys in one of Jeff Deaver’s brilliantly plotted thrillers? Or feel comforted by the idea of having Robert Crais’s Joe Pike watching your back? Personally, I’d like to hang out with Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski.
Perhaps your cup of tea is more in the vein of Agatha Christie? Less blood, more social norms. Right now, it can be very comforting to spend time with people who have good manners and obey social conventions. A bit of Margery Allingham, perhaps, and the very proper Albert Campion and his manservant Lugg, or the charmingly bumbling Lord Peter Whimsey, with his impeccable servant and the insightful and witty Harriet Vane? Even when we learn that Harriet has committed the shocking act of cohabiting before marriage, she is still a model of good manners and decorum.
Maybe the wearying cycle of bad news just makes you want to get out of town. Go someplace different where you can steep yourself in the landscape and forget about the state of the country. For that, you could go west with Tony Hillerman, or into the wilds of Wyoming with Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Longmire, or up to the wilds of Minnesota with William Kent Krueger. Or you could spend more time in Maine with Barbara Ross’s Clam Bake series or Lea Wait’s Shadow’s series.
If you really need to get out of town, there are mysteries set all over the world, and you could just set up a twelve-month calendar and visit a different venue every month.
Personally, right now, I would love someone to have my back…one of those kick-ass sidekicks who do bad stuff and break laws and compel cooperation and answers from the reluctant? If you’d like to explore sidekicks, we did a blog post here a while back on the subject. Here’s the link: https://mainecrimewriters.com/group-post/whod-have-your-back Stephanie Plum, perhaps? She might loan you Ranger. Or you can make up your own sidekick, which might be a fun way to spend another afternoon avoiding the news.
Feeling dystopic? How about Ben Winter’s The Last Policeman?
Or if you want to be transported by descriptive prose, go back to an old Mary Stewart romantic suspense, or make your way through John D. MacDonald. Both will have some dated social conventions, and some rather old-fashioned versions of the male/female relationship. But right now, that doesn’t seem half bad.
And guess what?
The good guys win.
So, dear reader, if you are going to escape into crime fiction, what will you be reading? (I am so hoping it is my new Joe Burgess)
Between now and December 9th, folks who leave comments will be eligible to win a bag of goodies perfect for your mystery reading escape–tea and biscuits! (Actually including Effie’s Oatcakes, which are perfectly heavenly. And perhaps some shortbreads?)