A mind for murder – talking about crime novels

On Sunday 13th May I attended the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. This is an annual event where people can get together to talk and hear about the delights of reading and writing.
I chose to hear three writers in a session entitled A Mind For Murder talking about crime novels – Peter James, Paul Thomas and Greg McGee.
Greg McGee (standing in for Jennifer Rowe) writes under the name of Alix Bosco and to date he has written two crime novels Cut and Run (2009) and Slaughter Falls (2010) both of which are in the college library.

Paul Thomas , a past student of King’s College, is a sport biographer and a crime writer. His latest crime novel due out this year is Death on Demand  and  sees the return of his Maori cop Tito Ihaka.
Peter James  is an award winning British crime writer and Chairman of the UK crime Writers Association. His latest Roy Grace novel (all of which have Dead in the title) published this year is Not Dead Yet, a title taken from traffic police and paramedics gallows humour – FUBAR BUNDY. For an explanation of this bizarre abbreviation see this link.
The talk began by alluding to Joanne Black’s article Why are Scandinavian novels full of violence against women raking it in?
Has there been a transformative shift over time from the age of beloved cerebral detectives to far more gruesome fare? Do crime writers have to censor what they write?
With much good humour and laughter the three authors agreed that there has been a shift towards more violence in crime novels. However, the golden rule of writing crime is that every single sentence must be there to draw the story on.
The violence we read about today is due to the influences of modern day society and cinema, which has become more violent. We cannot go back to the days of Agatha Christie and Poirot , we are more likely to think “OK fatso show us the forensic evidence”. In fact it could be argued that crime novels are the modern day social novel. Nobody sees more of human life than the modern day police force. As readers we want to learn about the world and discover “the wisdom of the author” as Peter James put it.
In some circles there is a certain snobbishness about crime novel writing. If it has a good plot, if it flows, and it is easy to read some people think that it is easy to write. If it is easy to write, the theory goes, anyone can do it and therefore it is inferior to literary fiction. Peter James told the story of Margaret Atwood meeting a brain surgeon who asked her what she did. I am a writer,  she replied. The brain surgeon then proceeded to tell her that he intended to write a novel when he retired, whereupon she replied that she intended to be a brain surgeon when she retired!
Terrible violence is not new and writers of long ago Sophocles and Shakespeare for example, wrote plays to tell stories about very violent events and murders.
Writers use women as murder victims as a “soft target” because they evoke more sympathy than men. However, it was agreed that people as murder victims were one thing but pets were quite another! A very thought provoking discussion.

Mrs H.


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