Crime for the Holidays
Volume 25, No. 1, Spring 2009
by Ruth Dudley Edwards (London, England)
We are a warped crew, we crime writers. There is nothing associated with joy and happiness that we can't ruin. Even holidays and vacations are for death and destruction.
As I write this on St Valentine's Day, I wonder what dark part of my soul made the day that symbolises love present itself to me as a perfect opportunity to kill people with poisoned chocolates (The St Valentine's Day Murders). I've had wonderful times in the west of Ireland, so I invented a hotel with a battlement I could throw someone off (The Anglo-Irish Murders). The welcome and friendship I met with in Muncie, Indiana, was repaid with a tale of conspiracy and blood (Murdering Americans). I can truly say that since I became a mystery-writer, I've never been on vacation anywhere and not considered how and why and where someone might bite the dust.
My twisted part has me size up even the most beautiful or happy places with a view to defiling them with corpses and simultaneously making jokes. Cambridge is heart-stoppingly lovely, so I used it as a background for killing academics (Matricide at St Martha's). The House of Lords is beyond magnificent, so I committed mass murder there (Ten Lords a'Leaping). The marvellous Victorian London club I joined in the 1980s was the inspiration for a story of crazed geriatrics murdering each other with abandon in a place of similar architectural greatness (Clubbed to Death).
I am one of those writers about crime who have a comforting explanation for such perverted instincts. We are nice people, we believe, because of the catharsis involved in channelling our dark side into fiction. Romantic novelists are notoriously bitchy; mystery writers are mutually supportive. Certainly I frequently put up patiently with difficult and irritating people because as I deal with them I think, "Someday, on paper, I'll kill you. Or, at the very least, make fun of you ruthlessly or one way or another give you a really hard time."
Hypocrites and the sugary sentimental evoke my ire too, which is why a commercially-driven event like St Valentine's Day was a natural target. Christmas has been a favourite slaying-time in mysteries, I can see plenty of scope in Thanksgiving, and now that my mind has begun to run in that direction, I'm wondering if anyone has had a murderer run amok in a greetings-card firm. Would he be particularly hard on the designers, the so-called poets, the marketing men who were trying to launch a Pets' Day? Be still, my tortured mind. I have people to kill in the world of art and have to drag my attention back to them.
In some ways it's absolutely wonderful being a mystery writer: everything is copy and nothing is sacred. The downside is that sometimes it would be nice to smell the coffee without wondering how one could make it toxic.
Ruth Dudley Edwards