When a local woman is poisoned at a pagan ritual in the woods, Lucky Jamieson’s grandfather, Jack, who provided the herbs for the gathering, is suspected of making a terrible mistake. The following day, a dead man is found floating in a creek just outside of town, his face unrecognizable. Is he a stranger or Lucky’s best friend’s estranged brother? Lucky is certain both deaths are murder. Can she find the connection and clear her grandfather’s name before more victims fall prey to a killer?
Crime fiction comes in many different packages – hard-boiled, noir, police procedural, thriller, cozy, even humorous. And fans of crime fiction are truly devoted fans who enjoy nothing else. I include myself in this category. I couldn’t imagine reading a book without one or more bodies. Oh, I admit I occasionally pick up a non-fiction book, but generally it’s crime-related non-fiction.
I’ve been asked a few times if I write anything else. I never know what to say because if that anything else means a story that doesn’t involve suspense, mystery, thrills and dead bodies – the answer is no. I’ve never even given it a thought. But that got me to thinking . . . why is that? Do I (and other crime fiction authors) have darkly suspicious minds that perceive something nefarious in the most innocent of situations? That could be. Yes, I’ll admit to that. Is it the puzzle of unraveling clues that fascinates us? Or the curiosity of following a police investigation and finally watching light dawn (figuratively) in the detective’s eyes. Yes, there’s that, too.
Or is it a desire for justice? Possibly. Maybe. Although I have noticed in reading foreign (non-U.S.) authors the same imperative to tie up every story in a nice neat bow doesn’t exist quite as much. Perhaps, I’ve thought, it’s only Americans who want everything nicely nailed down at the end.
Years ago, I read what the Italians call a gialli. So named, because giallo, the word for yellow, is the color publishers use for popular crime fiction. The Thursdays of Senora Giulia (I Giovedi della Senora Julia) is a crime story in which the fictional Senora Giulia disappears. I struggled with the advanced vocabulary but couldn’t wait to finish the story. I reached the final chapters only to discover the murderer was not only not brought to justice, but was not even revealed. I was extremely upset. I asked my teacher WHY???? Why write the book and not solve the crime? He said, “Allora, (I’m translating here) Who do you think killed her?” (I’ll spare you, dear reader, the following discussion about past participles having to agree with the gender of the victim). I was convinced Senora Giulia was killed by her ne’er do well son-in-law, but of course I wasn’t allowed to investigate. And I imagine my teacher’s comment implied that the end result was not as important as the exploration of possibilities. It was very frustrating! So, no, I can’t even say unequivocally that the fascination with crime fiction is a desire for justice or for order in our chaotic and violent world.
Now, I’m not such a great fan of serial killer stories. I enjoy reading about the investigation, I enjoy the attempt to infiltrate the mind of the killer, but after all, serial killers are just plain bonkers. Maybe there’s a reason for their behavior, but it’s not nearly as interesting as the psychological underpinnings of the average person who is driven to commit that most heinous of crimes. The kind of person who’s spoken of (after the act) by neighbors and friends as “Such a nice man . . . who would have thought?”
What neuronal or emotional pathways have become twisted in the mind of a killer provoking him or her to that final desperate act? And what is the connection between the victim and the killer? As any cop will tell you, an investigation starts with the victim – because therein lies the solution.
So, no, I have to admit. Literary fiction isn’t nearly as interesting — not if there aren’t any bodies when all is said and done. Whether it’s the puzzle of a cozy, the hunt for a serial killer, or a desire for order in a chaotic world, I have no answers. I just know I love to read it and I love to write it.