Murder – what’s to like?
What is it with us and murder? Ever since Cain killed Abel the human race has been fascinated by homicide. Is it because taking another life is the ultimate sin? Or does this fascination come from something more primal? To deliberately send another human being into the unknown, into the land beyond death (if you should believe in such a place, which I do as it happens, but more of that later. . .), is to commit the unthinkable. To take away something as precious as a life is to impose the ultimate sentence upon another soul. No choice for the hapless victim, only immediate extinction, a sudden and violent closure of everything they have ever known, experienced, and loved.
So what gives?
So what makes us so ghoulish that we have this insatiable appetite for murder mysteries? Is it because we identify ourselves with the victim, and wonder how we would cope in their dire situation? Do we imagine that we could somehow engineer an escape from their predicament if we were in their shoes?
Or is it something darker still? Do we identify, not with victim, but with killer? Is a murder mystery a way of releasing our inner demons, a way of indulging in the blackest fantasies which we would (hopefully) never work out in real life? Do we love to peer into the mind of a killer? It seems that we do … as long as our thrills are kept within the safe boundaries of a crime novel or film. The real thing, you will agree, is best avoided . . .
What, me, a ghoul?
I reckon it’s a cop out to say, ‘Oh, you know, I just like to see how the hero figures out who did it . . .’ Really? Fascinating and clever Sherlock may be, but then there’s CSI, with its graphic set pieces, tracing the path of a bullet through the brain in slowmo, or a knife slicing into flesh . . .
I guess we just have to face it: we love a spot of good, old fashioned, blood and guts.
The fear inside
But when we get to the part in that Val McDermid novel where the villain is about to despatch his latest victim, isn’t the chill that runs down our spine with the accompanying thought: ‘It could have been me’ a kind of cathartic working out of our deepest fears?
Are we so insecure? Do we fear that, one day, we will walk, unbeknownst, into the path of a murderer? Is the crime novel our way of handling the unthinkable? A way of acknowledging our fear whilst keeping a safe distance?
Well, we can’t get enough of murder, can we?