By Elizabeth Buhmann
A well-known contemporary philosopher (and friend) once asked me what I was reading. As usual, I was in the middle of a murder mystery. When I said so, he was aghast!
Murder, he said, was a dreadful crime, a terrible thing. How could I possibly think it was fun to read about it??? He was appalled at my insensitivity.
I saw what he meant, and it gave me pause—but I have to admit, I kept right on reading murder mysteries. I love them. In fact, when it comes to fiction, I’m not entirely happy with a book in which no one gets killed. I don’t like books about war and mayhem, but I do like a nice one-on-one murder.
When I sat down to write my own novel many years later, there was no question what it would be—a murder mystery, of course. But I remembered Bob Solomon’s chiding remark and gave it some fresh thought.
I found that as a writer, although I am not going to give up on murder as entertainment, I do feel an obligation to treat the subject with respect. And for me, this entails a serious exploration of the motives and emotions that could lead one person to kill another.
I don’t write about psychopaths or serial killers (though some very good writers do). I am not interested in extreme abnormal psychology so much as in human emotions we all share. I am drawn to a murder story that gives me a glimpse of how familiar feelings and yearnings could come together in a situation that results in murder.
I chose to write a standalone suspense novel as opposed to a detective story because, from a detective’s point of view, we are at arm’s length from the murder story. In detective fiction, the main story line is all about the discovery of truth. The drama is about an agent of justice and his quest to identify the killer and his or her motive.
Don’t get me wrong—I love detective stories! But I wanted to get closer to the drama that led up to murder, so in Lay Death at Her Door I chose for my protagonist one of the main actors in that drama. Kate Cranbrook didn’t commit the 1986 murder that provides the central mystery of the book. But she was a key player in that story.
Kate witnessed the murder and was herself raped and beaten. Her testimony sent an innocent man to prison for the crime. She knew the truth about what happened, lied to protect herself, and spent the next twenty years living with the knowledge that she’d committed perjury and was an accessory, however unwilling, after the fact of murder.
Kate is also a key player in the story of how the murder is solved. Her own character drives the ultimate unraveling of her secret life and the exposure of the long-hidden truth behind the old murder. My protagonist is not a champion of justice, to put it mildly. She is a deeply flawed character mired in a sordid personal history. But in her, and in the final revelations of the book, I think we glimpse a capacity for darkness that is recognizable to all of us.
2 thoughts on “Murder as Entertainment”
Loved this book!
You’ve summed up the challenge of suspense writing perfectly! Your new book, “Lay Death At Her Door,” is a wonderful and eerily accurate portrait of the dark possibilities within us all.