Murder Without Violence

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I had the great pleasure this past weekend to attend a meeting of my local chapter of the Sisters in Crime (the Delaware Valley Chapter). The guest speaker for the meeting is a Conservator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (which is, coincidentally, where I earned my PhD in Anthropology). Because it is a museum of archaeology rather than fine arts, Molly Gleeson conserves artifacts and other specimens. That includes human remains.

It was a fascinating talk — as they always are at these meetings. Ms. Gleeson prefaced her talk by warning us that she was going to show us images of human remains, then admitted that for this particular audience that might not be a problem. We all write and read about murder. We’re used to human remains, right?

IMG_2463Well…maybe. A murder mystery can be many, many things. It can be light hearted and funny. It can be chic lit. It can be dark, gritty. And it can be gory, a story of violence and evil. When choosing a new book to read, a mystery reader has to know what she’s getting into — or she reads at her own peril.

Personally, I prefer not to read gruesome stories. I particularly avoid books that include rape scenes, but I generally skim through (or avoid altogether) stories with too much gory detail, too much vividly painted violence. I write the books I like to read. Relatively dark mysteries, gritty even, but with the violence taking place almost entirely off the page.

As an aside, one of the most beautiful death scenes I’ve ever read was written by the late, great Ruth Rendell (who, incidentally, did not shy away from violence when she felt it was called for). I always picture that pretty corpse floating peacefully and elegantly down the river, surrounded by wildflowers, whenever I’m trying to write my own murder scenes. I have not yet achieved Rendell’s level of artistic description of death, but I’ll keep trying.

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 2.05.07 PMWhich brings me back to the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Sisters in Crime. Each month, a technical speaker is invited to come to our group, to share his or her knowledge of biology, ways to kill a person, how crime scenes are handled, even about ancient methods of human preservation (mummies). To an outsider, we probably seem like a pretty gory bunch.

Quite the contrary. In our group, you’ll find cozy writers, young adult writers, and many, like me, who write traditional mysteries that are high on mystery but low on sex and violence. But one thing we have in common: we’re all well-informed on those gory topics that inform the background of our stories, but don’t make an appearance on the page.

How about you? How much violence do you want to see in the mysteries you read?

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About janegorman

Mystery writer
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8 Responses to Murder Without Violence

  1. Paty Jager says:

    I actually had to stop reading Ruth Rendell’s books. I read one that gave me nightmares. LOL Yet I write murder mystery. Great post!

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    • janegorman says:

      Her books are definitely powerful. And she finds evil in a lot of places. But I just love her voice and her characters!

      Like

  2. ambfoxx says:

    It varies greatly. I don’t read a lot of violent mysteries but a few writers handle violence in a way that isn’t gratuitous and therefore it doesn’t repel me the way it does when it seems to be shock for its own sake. My books are mysteries without murder, so obviously I prefer to avoid violence in my writing.

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    • janegorman says:

      It’s true, it’s really more about how the violence is handled – how it fits into the story. That can make all the difference.

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  3. marilynm says:

    As I’ve gotten older, I write less descriptive violence than I once did–and read fewer books with graphic violence. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t like a lot of gore. Give me a puzzle to solve. Nice post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. casojka123 says:

    I don’t like a lot of violence, either. I prefer puzzles with the murder off the page and the sleuth trying to find the answer. I agree that Ruth Rendell is a fabulous writer, but her books give me the creeps. I guess it’s too much human nature! Great post.

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    • janegorman says:

      Thanks! Rendell’s books can be creepy, but as you say, she finds the creepiness in human nature. Not always easy to do (or at least convey on the page).

      Like

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