Plots with Guns
When my boys were young they wanted to play with guns. Being a conscientious mother, I steered them away from those plastic battle toys and harnessed their interest in puzzle solving, bubble blowing and Duplo bricks. One afternoon, I left them building towers in their room and returned some time later to discover they had built a veritable weapons store out of the Duplo and were in the middle of a game of shoot-em-up. It was then I realised that I was fighting the very forces of nature itself.
So what is it that attracts us to stories about crime and violence? Perhaps if you can imagine the worst, it won’t be so bad if it really happens. Does it then follow that if we explore death in all its morbid permutations, the fear of the unknown will somehow become less fearful? Wishful thinking. Which is why we all keep going back again and again for more. Or do we enjoy watching others suffer, so that our own lives don’t seem so bad?
Studies have shown a correlation between real-life crime and the popularity of crime fiction. In medieval times, people turned out in their thousands for a public hanging. The Victorians are well known for their fascination with crime, pitching up in droves for public trials in the courthouses and treating it more as entertainment than part of the justice system. Even to this day, the timeless fascination with Jack the Ripper provides endless stories, TV programmes and plays. One of the greatest fictional detectives of our time, Sherlock Holmes, was born out of the Victorian era.
So does real-life crime and violence beget a glut of fictional representation? Or does the ready availability of crime and violence, even for the young with their toys and video games, feed our propensity for cruelty? I would like to think the former and despite my sons having been brought up with exposure to Duplo guns, which in later years progressed to GTA on Xbox, they have after all turned out to be well-adjusted, contented individuals.
The most interesting characters in crime fiction are the ones who tread a fine line between good and bad, the ones who have grey areas smudged around their edges. Look to some of our most famous and intriguing characters in crime as examples; Sherlock Holmes, Tony Hill, Temperence Brennan, Dexter Morgan, John Rebus – I am sure you can think of some more, but I think you get my point.