Monday, December 12, 2011

Taking the murder out of mysteries

Would Mma Precious Ramotswe approve of this vicious red skull? I think not.

See this stack of library books that I recently checked out? See the scary-looking red skull at the bottom of the book I’m pointing at? That is how the city of Orange’s libraries label books in the mystery genre – including mysteries that contain no murder whatsoever, e.g., the works of Alexander McCall Smith.

That little red skull got me thinking: is the link between murder and the adult mystery genre unbreakable? (Thank goodness it does not show up in mysteries for kids, such as the Encyclopedia Brown series.) Is it moral to use this crime as a form of entertainment?

Despite all of its great reviews, I never read and never will read Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones because it’s about a fourteen-year-old girl who gets raped and murdered. That is my deal-killer (no pun intended).

I respect the mystery writers who treat this crime with the gravitas it deserves – even though it is highly unlikely that I would read those books. On the other hand, some folks write books with titles like these:

Revenge of the Wrought-Iron Flamingos
Fatally Frosted
Pleating for Mercy
The Chocolate Frog Frame-Up
Shoe Done It
Sew Deadly
Pepperoni Pizza Can Be Murder
Slay It with Flowers
Murder Most Frothy
Fatally Flaky
The Cereal Murders
Cream Puff Murder
Murder Boogies with Elvis
A Stitch in Crime
Back to School Murder
Murder of a Chocolate Covered Cherry

If you don’t believe these titles, go to your local bookstore or favorite online seller. They’re all real.

Now I understand that we all have different perspectives, but if I knew someone who had been murdered – or had even viewed a murder victim as part of my job – I wouldn’t be laughing. Would anyone publish, or even write, a book called Cream Puff Rape or Pedophilia Boogies with Elvis?

Mysteries are like puzzles, and I do respect puzzle creators. However, why can’t there be more books in which the puzzle is who stole the pepperoni pizza? Or who painted the wrought-iron flamingos black? Or who peed on the chocolate-covered cherries?

That’s entertainment without guilt – and without red skull labels.

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