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The Sirens of Suspense

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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Sally Andrew is the author of the new Tannie (‘Auntie’) Maria mystery series. Recipes for Love and Murder is followed by The Satanic Mechanic.

Sally lives in a mud-brick house on a nature reserve in the Klein Karoo, South Africa, with her artist partner and other wildlife, including a secretive leopard. Her background is adult education, and political and environmental activism. Her books are being published in fourteen languages by twenty-one publishers internationally.

Find Sally on Twitter and Facebook.

http://www.sallyandrew.com

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Why do some people like cozy murder mysteries and others prefer gruesome crime novels? Is it a literary or a personal choice, or does it also reflect our personal or social politics?

Crime writing has changed significantly since the days of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There is a lot more grit, sex and violence. Our films and our international news expose us to a high level of violence, and it is natural that people might numb themselves to the effects of this. Perhaps in order to reach readers emotionally, writers need to resort to more explicitness than before? There are also writers who believe that gruesome details are exposing readers to the necessary ‘truth’ of reality.

I personally enjoy a good cozy crime novel, and have read most of the works of Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardener and Dick Francis. I like to read books with strong female characters, and am averse to detailed descriptions of violence, especially sexual violence. So, I am grateful to authors such as Janet Evanovich, Sara Paretsky and Kinsey Milhone. However, many readers flock to the gory and the gruesome, and publishers punt it on their covers. Perhaps I am a sensitive wussy, and can’t take the adrenaline that some readers thrive on. However, I think there are deeper issues at stake here, which go beyond personal preference.

Every crime novel contains murder (or some form of violent crime) by definition. But the nature and description of the violence can vary considerably, as can the manner in which the story is resolved.

As writers we need to ask ourselves: What kind of violence are we depicting, and are we perpetuating, celebrating, or challenging it? Are we helping the characters and the readers to heal? Are we seeking justice on a personal and political level?

With my Tannie (‘Auntie’) Maria series, I have opted to write feel-good murder mysteries, but ones that explore more social problems than the old fashioned ‘cozy’ mysteries would do. My latest novel, The Satanic Mechanic (A Tannie Maria Mystery) addresses the abuse of women, xenophobia, homophobia, racism, torture, indigenous land rights, and environmental issues, amongst other topics. Many of these ‘traumas’ are addressed in a PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) group, run by a counselor known as the ‘satanic mechanic’. His approach to healing draws on nature, mindfulness and forgiveness. Each of the characters goes on a journey related to their own healing. So, although I go into difficult issues, I also explore how to resolve them.

Our world is full of exploitation and oppression, and the violence that perpetuates it. Sadly, I suspect many readers vicariously enjoy acts of oppressive violence, and may also be perpetrators of it in their real lives. Stieg Larsson’s books are unusual, in that they express the violence of a woman fighting back. Many crime books have women as victims of violence - with some third party (usually a male detective) ‘solving’ the crime, by finding the perpetrator.

Ian Rankin argues that “Crime fiction needs a sense of the incomplete, of life’s messy complexity. The reader should go to crime fiction to learn about the real world, not to retreat from it with comfortable reassurances and assumptions.”

I agree with Rankin that a reader should feel uncomfortable with a crime that has been committed. However, the ‘real world’ has myriads of versions, and as writers we choose to show an interpretation of one tiny sliver of it. Also, as fiction writers, we are not only showing what is, but also what is possible. How things could be. I believe that a progressive writer should consciously fight oppression. We can address dark themes, but we don’t have to roll around in them, like my dog used to do with stinky things on the beach. We need to ensure we are not perpetuating oppressive violence; and to do this we need to address how we can challenge it, and heal from it.

I also feel that as crime writers (progressive or reactionary), our contract with the reader is to provide justice and resolution. Life may often be messy and unfinished, but fiction should provide a satisfying sense of completion. After obstacles, adventures and clever detection, the baddies get caught. The goodies live happily ever after (or for at least a week). The end.

 

 

WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE NOT-YOUR-GRANDMOTHER'S COZY? TELL US or leave a comment on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of THE SATANIC MECHANIC! (US entrants only, please.)

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