Murder, murder, murder. With a fairly loose look at world statistics for print fiction sales, crime thrillers appear to account for a huge chunk of it. Why are we so fascinated?
Is it our obsession with our own mortality, the pacey procedural cat and mouse plotting, or the macabre instinct to peek at others’ misfortune, much as we might a car crash or a celebrity break up? Whatever it is, there are many such books to choose from, so let’s … Err … pick the eyes out of them.
Historical fiction is pretty popular and in City of Vengeance D.V. Bishop presents us with an intricately woven plot that has characters striding and stalking the streets of Renaissance Florence. There is all the drama, squalor and corruption you’d expect of a city that swills its blood and guts into the Arno each evening whilst its ruler, Duke Alessandro de Medici, drinks and whores (author’s word, not mine) his privileged life away.
The beacon of light in the darkness is more of a flickering candle in the form of grumpy and grizzled Cesare Aldo, officer of the criminal court, charged with at once protecting a Jewish moneylender, then with investigating the brutal murder of a courtesan (and later the death of the moneylender – whoops!). There are many more beatings and stabbings and bodily fluids swilled into the river, political machinations and a god-awful weasel of a filthy cop. Cesare stalks, strides and stomps (my one irritation with the writing – why can’t he just walk?) through the plot, following clues and solving crimes with 16th century technology: his eyes, his ears, and his nose for a lie.
Bloodlust doesn’t confine itself to books for grown-ups. Even if we’re going to be nostalgic, The Chronicles of Narnia is full of lion torture and sword related injuries and the Brothers Grimm still have the monopoly on imprisoning and torturing children. I recently read a 2020 novel, Jefferson by Jean-Claude Moulevat, a chapter book intended for children of about 8 or 9 years and up.
Jefferson is a sweet little hedgehog. He’s mild-mannered and likes to leave his cosy cottage neat as a pin and cook for his best friend, Gilbert the pig. He has a soft spot for Sophie the badger, niece of Mr Edgar who owns Cut and Dye hair salon. Jefferson is off to get his quiff trimmed (with the agenda of seeing Sophie) when he disturbs the scene of a murder. Found, quite literally, with blood on his hands, Jefferson flees and goes on the run with Gilbert to try and track down the real murderer and clear his name.
What a conundrum of a book. It’s fabulous – gripping, funny and really rather sweet in its description of the friendship between Jeff and Gilbert and the animals they meet on their adventures. But there Mr Edgar lies, brutally murdered in cold blood, with a pair of scissors sticking out of his chest, and later on Gilbert is trapped in an abattoir overnight and traumatised by pigs crammed into pens with no room to move and sheep who know their throats will be slit in the morning.
It’s pretty grown-up stuff. My daughter as an 8-year-old would have loved it and regaled us with all the gory bits over dinner. My son at that age (and possibly now) wouldn’t have a bar of it. I’m all for children meeting their heroes and demons in print, therefore being prepared for the best and worst of reality, and I’m all for matching the child with the book. Let them read Jefferson, if they’re a macabre little reader with a strong stomach and a bent toward activism.
For a society that reads so much fictional unpleasantness, we tend not to talk much about, or prepare for, our own demise. When I Die by Kathryn Perks is a book that can help with that.
It’s a planner, so you fill in all sorts of things, the most useful of which are those you never would have thought about. Yes, there’s who do you want to have what, but there’s also space for what you would like done with your social media accounts, where all your financial stuff is, who’s currently got your copy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
If I’d had this when clearing out my mum’s house (she’s not dead, bless her, but has dementia), I would have known what her grand plan for all that string she’s collected for the past 60 years was. It doesn’t replace a will, but complements it greatly and this latest version even mentions such things as Sharesies which is bang up to date.
So there you go. Food for thought and conversations to be had whilst we are still gloriously alive and able to read deliciously plotted murder mysteries in front of our roaring fires. Stay safe out there.