To kill or not to kill. That is the question that we all must ask ourselves at one point or another. Well, at least, if we are mystery writers.
In a cozy mystery, there is usually no killing on the page. A body, delicately placed on a floor is the closest we get to murder. My mysteries (sometimes verging on thrillers) are not cozy. People die on the pages. The Bad and the Good.
So, if you read my books, you know people are going to die. My very first mystery, Mainely Power, starts with the murder of a security guard at a nuclear power plant. This is the type of killing that is easy for the author to get away with as the reader is not invested in this man yet, so the impact is minimal.
Of course, killing the baddies on the page is almost always acceptable. Whether they be flunkies or kingpins, those readers who don’t possess overly squeamish stomachs, get a thrill out of the villains getting their comeuppance. I have killed many of those over the years and have yet to receive any flak in that regard from readers.
As a matter of fact, I believe that readers probably cheer when the villain of Love in a Time of Hate is revealed and then dispensed. The baddie in this case has few grey areas, even if initially presented as a good person.
But what of the complicated antagonist who has redeeming features or has been driven to their bad actions by a difficult childhood, trauma in life, or had their faith and trust in the institutions of the world destroyed? These are more difficult to simply kill and often create a sense of unease or even disappointment in the reader.
Even more delicate of a proposition is the killing of a beloved character. This happens in Mainely Power, and I am still accused of being a terrible person for the murder I wrote upon the pages. As a matter of fact, it got me temporarily barred from Facebook, but that’s another story.
I kill one such cherished character in the upcoming December release of Cosmic Trap. I’m not revealing who but be advised. Death will occur, the stakes will be raised, and hopefully, the reader will be rapt within the pages. The same will happen with the next August release of Mainely Wicked.
My belief is that if you never kill any of the beloved and main characters, the risk and stakes are lowered, and the reader can coast along knowing that nothing bad as death will happen. This glossed over reality of life and death concerns me for its falseness. We don’t live in a world where only the bad die and the good live. You can only escape into a fictional world as long as that place is believable on some level.
What say you? To kill or not to kill?
About the Author
Matt Cost was a history major at Trinity College. He owned a mystery bookstore, a video store, and a gym, before serving a ten-year sentence as a junior high school teacher. In 2014 he was released and began writing. And that’s what he does. He writes histories and mysteries.
Cost has published four books in the Mainely Mystery series, with the fifth, Mainely Wicked, due out in August of 2023. He has also published three books in the Clay Wolfe/Port Essex series, with the fourth, Cosmic Trap, due out in December of 2022.
For historical novels, Cost has published At Every Hazard and its sequel, Love in a Time of Hate, as well as I am Cuba. In April of 2023, Cost will combine his love of histories and mysteries into a historical PI mystery set in 1923 Brooklyn, Velma Gone Awry.
Cost now lives in Brunswick, Maine, with his wife, Harper. There are four grown children: Brittany, Pearson, Miranda, and Ryan. A chocolate Lab and a basset hound round out the mix. He now spends his days at the computer, writing.