Wednesday, October 19, 2016
7:43 AM |
No One Cares About Murder
I've been watching and reading a lot of Agatha Christie lately, for entertainment and for research. They're delightful detective stories -- but I also know they're really just expertly handled contrivances.
I'm remembering Raymond Chandler's old complaint about the classic detective story in his essay "The Simple Art of Murder," where he wrote: "If the situation is false, you cannot even accept it as a light novel, for there is no story for the light novel to be about. If the problem does not contain the elements of truth and plausibility, it is no problem; if the logic is an illusion, there is nothing to deduce. If the impersonation is impossible once the reader is told the conditions it must fulfill, then the whole thing is a fraud... There is one by Dorothy Sayers in which a man is murdered alone at night in his house by a mechanically released weight which works because he always turns the radio on at just such a moment, always stands in just such a position in front of it, and always bends over just so far. A couple of inches either way and the customers would get a rain check." [More here
Nonetheless, it is a difficult kind of story to write -- all that plotting, all that meticulous use of "logic," deduction, and red herrings -- and I've been meaning to write one for the longest time. But I think the most difficult challenge of writing in this genre is going beyond my own culture: British detective fiction works because it is founded on the basic assumption that their justice system works and the perpetrator of a crime will be made to pay.
Not true for the culture I come from: justice doesn't work here and most murderers get away -- or get elected to office. Life is cheap in the Philippines, and any local Hercule Poirot will be out of his depths pursuing a useless crusade, because nobody cares.
Labels: detective fiction, fiction, issue, writing
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