Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My love-hate relationship with mystery stories

I have a love-hate relationship with mystery stories. Don't get me wrong. Over my life, I've probably read ten mystery books for every one of the other kinds of books I've read. And I've always written mysteries. But still, I have a love-hate relationship with mystery stories. Their violence bothers me. If it is a cozy kind of violence, distant and unreal, it doesn't do justice to what really happened. It makes killing seem to be just a reason to create a puzzle. But if the violence is more real, I find myself asking whether writing, even fictional stories about it, feeds the violence in the world.

Just today, I heard a retelling of the Native American story of the two wolves. A young Native American girl asks her grandmother how the grandmother became so wise. Her grandmother answers, "I have two wolves inside me. One is the wolf of hate. The other the wolf of love. They are battling each other."

"Which one wins?" the little girl asks. And her grandmother replies, "The one I feed."

I would find my own book The Body in the Record Room almost unbearable if it were not for Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. The events in the book are fictional. I wouldn't have written about them if I thought such events had ever occurred in that way anywhere. But the kind of violence described is real violence. Children have been sexually abused by their churches, whether Catholic, Protestant or perhaps in other of the world's religions too.

The Body in the Record Room is about child abuse and the kinds of evil that come from it. And the saving grace in the book comes through two people who loved, cared for and protected children. My own Roy Rogers takes his refuge in the movie-screen Roy Rogers' goodness. My own Roy didn't even get to know the movie star until my Roy was well into adulthood. He learned to know Roy by watching him in the twice-weekly movies in the auditorium of the mental institution where he lived.

As I visualize it, my Roy Rogers is going to have to grow beyond where he is in relation to the real character. I see these books as a trilogy with much to happen to my Roy and to some of the other characters including the little man. But if my Roy finally decides to become himself again, he will still have been molded and changed by the examples of Roy and Dale.

Roy and Dale are the way I feed the wolf of love in The Body in the Record Room. And if I hadn't fed the wolf of love, I don't think I could have finished the book.

There is real evil in the world, sometimes awful unadulterated evil of the kind you see in Darfur or other places where genocide occurs. And I guess mystery books shouldn't ignore real evil.

Maybe that's why I read mystery stories. Maybe non-cozy types of mystery stories acknowledge real evil. And maybe, if the author chooses to try to do it, they provide a way to feed the wolf of love even in the face of real evil.

I hope that's the way it is in my book The Body in the Record Room, just as I suspect that that's the way it is with all the mysteries I have read and really loved. --Joe.

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