In “Defense” of Crime Fiction

A one time friend of mine has taken exception to my reading of crime fiction. He is a professing Christian with some extreme theological views that would be rejected by the majority of Christian believers, including myself.

But added to his “theological” issues he has been particularly insistent about the evils of crime fiction and critical of my reading of “death and murder”.
He also objected to me maintaining a “reading list”, claiming I am:

” de facto recommending appalling books to Christians and shd be stopped. [my] Books Read list is available to the public. It shdn’t be…”

Clearly he has read ever single book on my Books Read list and knows without doubt how appalling all of those books are. But as for the claim that I’m recommending any of those books to Christians… it’s very rarely that I recommend any book to anyone, Christian or otherwise.

Ironically, this man introduced me to a Christian author of crime novels, an author his wife had been reading.
I read one of that author’s books and found aspects of it more disturbing than the majority of those “death and murder” books that he condemns; with its Christian good-guys resorting to shooting their criminal opponents on several occasions (it’s American of course).

But overlooking the 100s of non-crime books on my reading list, as well as the many non-fiction titles about a variety of topics, what about the “death and murder” books he finds disturbing?

While crime books mostly have a murder (or murders) as the ignition point of their story, few of them dwell on death. The stories are about the living, those attempting to resolve the crime, or those left to make sense of the life changing loss of a loved one. They are occasionally about the perpetrator, who in most books I’ve read haven’t been evil blood-thirsty psychopaths (although there have been a couple of exceptions out of the many I’ve read). The guilty parties are often everyday people who have committed an out of character act of violence upon the victim.

Most of the authors I’ve read don’t write explicit descriptions of violence or killing, with murders mostly happening beyond the page. There have been exceptions, sometimes gratuitous exceptions, but those are the minority, and aren’t the kind of books I choose to read – although with an unfamiliar author a book has to be read before its nature is discovered.

The majority of the crime fiction I’ve chosen to read, the way I’ve narrowed the field in a very wide genre, has been because of two main factors: geographical and temporal settings. I suppose both have a relationship to nostalgia. The majority of my chosen authors set their books around Derbyshire or neighbouring counties – where I lived during my pre-teen years. Others relate to the mid-1960s – 1970s, the period of my childhood and adolescence. They often weave landscape and time-scape with vaguely familiar references to news events of their time, or to places, and types of people, I thought I’d forgotten about – stirring memories.

Despite the claims of that one time friend, the average crime novel has nowhere near the amount of death and murder as there was in so many of the accounts of WWI and WWII that I was reading a year or two ago; books he was all too happy for me to read, even encouraging me with links to associated articles.

A Map of Days, by Ransom Riggs

9780735231498.jpgThis is the fourth of Riggs’ books about Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, and the first in a new story series.

Peculiars are people with extraordinary abilities, who in other story genres would be portrayed as superheroes.

Jacob Portman has recently discovered his own “peculiar” abilities and with a group of other peculiars, travelling though time and place, helped put an end to an existential threat to their kind.

He has now returned home, and is rescued from an attempt to commit him to a psych facility by the unexpected appearance of Miss Peregrine and her peculiar wards.

In this book Jacob begins to learn more about the grandfather whose death led him to find Miss Peregrine and sets out to follow in his footsteps, seeking out and rescuing isolated peculiars across America. He gradually finds himself out of his depth, potentially compromising fragile treaties between various peculiar clans.

Riggs’ first book was an attention getter from the beginning, attested by the fact that Gloria read it before I did – and she is not a keen reader, and will only stick with something if it is immediately (and continues to be) compelling from the first page or two.

In my opinion there is a significant pacing problem with this book. I know it would be a waste of time for Gloria to start it.
It has a very slow build up as it moves from the events of the past books into a new situation and new challenges. I was about three quarters into the book before I felt it picking up any momentum, and then it began to move from one breathless crisis to another.

Riggs continues a practice that was quite effective in his first book. He is a collector of old photographs, and he was able to cleverly weave some of his collection into the book, illustrating some of the peculiar characters, and at times using others to develop settings and plot points.

In the following books, and particularly in this one, I started to find the photo use becoming forced, intrusive and increasingly gratuitous.

Throughout A Map of Days I felt that I probably wouldn’t be interested enough to continue with the series after this one – the next installment is due early next year – and it was only in the last chapter or two that I started to feel interested enough to want to see what happens next. By then it became obvious I was heading for a cliffhanger ending to be resolved/continued in that next book. At this stage I’m still not sure whether I’d want to continue the journey.