Dark and Loving it
Crime Writing with Megan Buxton
I love a good murder.
Don’t be alarmed. I’ve never actually killed anyone; nor am I likely to (though my partner might debate that). I am also, I hope, unlikely to be the victim of a violent crime. But, according to the experts, one of the reasons I (and millions of others) read crime fiction is that it allows us the experience of this darker side of life from the comfort and safety of our armchairs. We can have the adrenaline rush, the edge-of-the-seat tension and suspense, the race to beat the ticking clock – and then put the book down and go on with our comfortable lives.
While I might never be a victim there is always that possibility. As I read there’s a small voice, way down deep, that says, ‘This could be you’. I know, when I’m reading fantasy or speculative fiction, that I will never encounter a goblin or pass through a portal to another world, but I could, on some dark, unfortunate night, encounter someone who means me harm. Perhaps reading crime fiction allows me to compare myself to the victim; I can tell myself that they are very different to me, that I wouldn’t ever do what they have done or go where they went, and reassure myself that it wouldn’t happen to me.
Or, perhaps I want to know what it’s like to be a killer – what it’s like to live with the darkness.
Tana French, one of my favourite crime writers, said, I write about murder because it’s one of the great mysteries of the human heart. How can one human being deliberately take away another’s life?
Perhaps, when we read crime fiction, we’re searching for an answer to that same question. It’s often been said that crime fiction provides us with a sense that order and justice are attainable when, so often in real life, the opposite seems true.
Lee Child says, It gratifies (the) desire for safety, security and the rule of law.
One of the joys of reading crime fiction comes from the interactive nature of the genre. Every crime fiction story is a puzzle and, like most readers of crime fiction I love the challenge of putting the pieces together, trying to interpret the ‘clues’, to work out what is misdirection or ‘red herring’ and unearth the perpetrator. I may not get it right – in fact it’s better if I don’t, if I have the rug pulled out from under me by a surprising but perfectly logical twist – but there is a satisfying intellectual element to reading a good crime fiction novel.
Critics of crime fiction (usually those who haven’t read any) claim that it is shallow, that it doesn’t offer the reader the depth of literary fiction. I’ll leave it to Michael Robotham (another of my very favourite writers) to refute that claim: A great literary novel can change your life and resonate through the ages. A great crime novel can shine a light upon the best and worst of human nature and into the darkest corners of society.
And, finally, good crime fiction (and, yes, there is a lot of bad crime fiction out there) is a great ‘read. It’s fast- paced, full of tension and suspense and peopled by characters who won’t let me put the book down till I find out their fate.
So crime fiction has, I think, a lot to offer me as a reader. I have a long list of ‘favourite’ authors and, increasingly, I’m finding that many of them are women – and Australians – and that is the subject of my next entry.
Megan Buxton is a writer, retired English teacher and an avid reader of crime fiction. She is also the president of HWC board and hosts a creative writing gathering once a month at Maitland.
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