The wonderful Shannon Jamieson Vazquez, who edited an even dozen of the stories I've written, once told me she found me unusual among my colleagues: I was the mystery writer who most hated killing people.
As usual, she was completely right. I am not especially interested in violence. I don't really care what the method of the murder might be. Motivations to commit the act always seem stupid in my mind--really, there was no recourse other than to kill somebody? Exactly how much did you need that rare butterfly or the parcel of land in California (it's always in California)? Yeah, you were mad that your wife cheated on you, but so were another thousand spouses, and that's just today. You couldn't just get a divorce? Revenge-cheat? Take up chess?j
The method of murder is just as odd in my opinion. People living in suburban Indiana take each other apart with medieval axes? Citizens of Pittsburgh fly in an exotic plant to create just the right poison? My friend Luci Hansson Zahray, otherwise known as The Poison Lady, tells me a person can overdose on pretty much anything. For your character it has to be that species of Amazonian Strychnos? Really?
I'm not saying I'd ban all murders from all books; of course I wouldn't. Fiction is meant to be free and in some cases hyper-dramatic. I get that, and I have personally murdered more than 20 people in books and short stories. I don't have a problem with the existence of murder mysteries; they have provided me with a nice living and I find writing them to be enjoyable. When the writing is going well.
We are told as crime fiction writers that murder "ups the stakes" in the story and makes it more exciting for the reader. I tend to think that if your characters are involved in answering an interesting question and they themselves are not boring people, there are other topics to be explored.
One hedge against this--and it's one I've used in the past--is to write a supposed murder that turns out not to be a murder in the end. It gives the writer a nice surprise moment toward the end of the story where the assumed victim shows up breathing. I'm not above utilizing that one. But I am interested in writing something else once in a while. A heist? A missing person? A lost dog? Something? Maybe. Not sure if my publishers would be thrilled, but I'd like to give it a shot.
It makes me wonder if readers feel the same way. Do you really need there to be a killing (or four) in every book for the story to be interesting? Is that an absolutely essential part of the mystery reading experience? I'm asking this seriously and would welcome answers in the comments below.
What about a mystery with no murder? Not even the hint of one? What do you think?