Why We Kill

by Janis Patterson

It is not, as some of my friends have said, because I am an old grump who wants to do away with everyone who annoys me. Not all the time, at least.

That said, however, taking someone whom you dislike intensely, who has been egregiously rude/cruel/unmannerly/whatever, and offing them can be very relaxing and therapeutic. (Of course, I’m talking about killing only in pixels.) It’s cheaper than therapy, can be done multiple times if the first time is not satisfying enough and no one gets really hurt. And, if you’re lucky, you can make a little money.

But why do people want to read about people being killed? After all, killing is messy. It’s permanent. And it’s very very illegal. I think the reasons are as varied as the readers. And the writers. Sublimation. Wish fulfillment. Excitement. The thrill of the chase. All basic human emotions, but I think the main reason is that in a mystery novel we want the assurance that all will turn out right – the murderer will be caught and properly punished. Balance in the world is restored. Justice is served.

I believe every rational person has a deep sense of justice. A lot of times the murder is committed because in some possibly twisted way it fulfills the murderer’s sense of justice – as incomprehensible as it might be to anyone else.

When we write or read mysteries we are not only indulging in escapism, we are shoring up the foundations of justice. The crime is solved. Balance returns. Our inner world is stable once more, even if the real world is far less simple or predictable.

Which means that we as writers are fortunate. I mean, how many people can say that we not only entertain, but we contribute to the happiness and mental health of the world? And all by killing people…