Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Conflict and Tragedy: it makes the world go 'round.

By Vicki Delany

Why crime? What is it about the gutters and dark alleys of the world that compels you to write crime fiction?
It’s not the gutters and dark alleys that make me write crime fiction, but the dark side of the human experience, wherever it is found, and how we handle it.

“When I decided to become a police officer I knew I’d have to deal with the hard side of life. Beaten children, raped women, accident victims, blood and gore. But that’s not the hardest part, is it? It’s the goddamn tragedy of people’s lives.”
Constable Molly Smith to Sergeant John Winters, Among the Departed by Vicki Delany

It’s conflict and tragedy, not love, that makes the world go round.

Crime novels, it has been said, show the human psyche under pressure.

Crime novels take (usually) normal people and put them through a heck of a lot. Some survive, some do not. Physically as well as mentally or morally.

Crime novels allow the reader to ask him or herself: what would I do in this situation? What would I do if this happened to me? How far would I go to save my child/defeat my enemy/get revenge/save myself? What would I do for money/for love?

Would I do the right thing, or would I fail?

In the latest Constable Molly Smith book, A Cold White Sun, tragedy strikes a comfortable family.  A family much like yours perhaps.

Cathy Lindsay, middle-aged, middle-class, married mother of two, high school English teacher, gunned down by a sniper one sunny winter’s day walking her bichon frise on the snowy trail above town.

Cathy is not the sort of woman to be the target of what appears to be, if not a professional killer, a highly motivated and trained amateur.  And Trafalgar, B.C. is not the sort of town where things like that happen.

The police have no motive, no suspects, no clues. What if, they fear, Cathy was not the intended victim? Does someone else in the close-knit town of Trafalgar have a target on their back?

Although on the surface A Cold White Sun is about the police investigation into the killing, it’s really about the reactions of those close to Cathy Lindsay. Particularly her husband, Gord. We know from the beginning that Gord is not the killer, although the police have their suspicions. He struggles first with understanding what has happened, and then wonders how he’s going to live the rest of his life without Cathy.  Gord has two children still living at home, a borderline juvenile delinquent named Bradley and a sweet little girl, Jocelyn, who at ten years old faces a future without her mother’s support and guidance.

For the rest of her years, Jocelyn would miss her mother. There would be an empty place at her wedding; no one to give her kindly advice on the birth of her first child. No shoulder for her to cry on when life got too hard. No one to tell her to buck up, and suggest they chase away her worries by indulging in some retail therapy.

No one to tell her the facts of life.

Gord put his head in his hands and wept.

He wept for himself as much as he wept for his daughter. All that Cathy had done, all that she had been in their lives, would now fall on him.

He knew he wasn’t up to it.

              A Cold White Sun, by Vicki Delany

In my writing and my reading, I have little interest in chasing vampires or diabolical maniacs threatening to explode nuclear weapons, or in rogue government agents fighting the system to save the world.  What I want to read about, and to write about, is ordinary people living ordinary lives, facing extra-ordinary tragedies.

It’s through the lens of the crime novel that we can explore people under extreme pressure.  The use of a crime or a mystery allows the author to up the stakes for the characters, but the essential humanity and the complex range of human emotions are what’s all-important.

Hold your sympathy for Gord. He’s not perfect (not many of us are) and he begins to think that the unexpected death of his wife just might help him out in the long run. You see, there’s this woman in Victoria.

Love and death and tragedy.  They fit seamlessly together in a crime novel.

As they do in real life.  

1 comment:

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Well said, Vicki. I'm always more interested in WHY someone did something than how.