The cruelty and waste of the murders at Virginia Tech are on most people’s minds. The sorrow of the families and friends of the dead will spread out for decades, and the world will miss out on what those young people could have become
Writers of crime fiction may have a bad feeling in addition to sorrow and anger. It’s not quite guilt, but it has elements of it. I don’t think we believe that crime fiction causes crime. Pretty much all studies have shown that isn’t so, and in fact, reading about violence may act as catharsis.
It’s more a matter of suddenly asking ourselves why we write about such horrible things at all. I was working on an interior monologue for a hired assassin when the news of the killings in Virginia came on the television, and it certainly gave me pause.
Why do we read crime fiction, for that matter? I read mysteries and thrillers all the time. A couple of my relatives have asked me, “Why do you like to read about murder?” Well, why do we? Do we enjoy it? We must. Surely we don’t read these books because we dislike the process.
Carolyn Hart was asked once at a mystery convention why people read humorous crime fiction. Murder, the questioner said with some indignation, was not funny. Carolyn answered, “Murder isn’t funny, but people are funny.”
It’s the people, I think, we read to find out about. And write in order to explore. Crime fiction gives us people at extremes—killers, victims, vigilantes, professional righters-of-wrongs. This doesn’t seem to me to be a bad thing, but I would like to know how others feel about it.