Lucky for us, fiction comes in many flavors. Some fans of crime and suspense fiction don’t mind the full-gore treatment—But I, and several other writers I know, can attest to the fact that other readers are vocal about wanting the violence in their crime fiction to be restrained and tidy, more like Agatha Christie than Cormac McCarthy (a tree hung with dead babies, anyone?). Or, in film/tv parlance, more Masterpiece Theater than Quentin Tarantino.
There is a scene in Isabella Moon in which a character is nearly decapitated by a psychopath with an axe. An earlier version had the psychopath completely decapitating him and rolling the head into a room like a bowling ball. My editor thought it was a little over-the-top. Okay, yes, it was way over the top—melodramatic, even. (I have melodrama in my soul, and I am not ashamed!)
Sadly, fiction can barely approach the hell that reality can be. Even I, a sort of connoisseur of the truly horrible, was taken aback by the news story about the two French students stabbed to death last week in London. From the London Times: “Bound up by their attacker or attackers, they received multiple stab wounds in the head, neck, back and torso. Mr Bonomo was stabbed 196 times, Mr Duthie said. Almost 100 of those wounds were inflicted to his back after his death. Mr Ferez was stabbed 47 times.”
I was particularly struck by this particular police understatement from another version of the story: “We are here today because I don’t know why these boys were killed or who killed them,” Duthie said. “I do believe, however, that those responsible must have been bloodstained when they left.”
There is evil in the world.
A friend of this blog, CJ Lyons, recently did a terrific guest piece at Murder She Writes where she discusses real-life evil and fiction. (The follow-up comments are riveting.) Obviously, the subject moves and motivates writers—we can’t help but explore it because it is all around us. Are writers and readers doing the same thing? Exploring and trying to make sense of an often mad and maddening world? My guess is, yes.