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May 24, 2016


This is one of the things I continue to love about the Sherlock Holmes stories. So few of them actually have murder, and some don't even have a crime per se.

Besides the body count, one of the things I truly dislike about (esp modern) mysteries and thrillers is the tendency to eroticize the violence, or have some part of the book from the murderer/rapist/serial killer point of view and how they get off on hurting, killing, torturing. Ugh. Seriously, why?

Colombo rarely failed the John Donne, and invariably gave the POV of the killer. Ofc, it also was almost moreso about the criminal as simple prey rather than a predator being stalked.

(It was also refreshingly plebeian, but that's another matter.)

I suggest The Perfect Murder by H.R.F. Keating. It's the first Inspector Ghote mystery. The victim is a Mr. Perfect (a Parsee), and he isn't murdered.

Is the test failed if all the murders took place in the past, rather than being part of the contemporaneous plot in the book?

I've muttered to myself, once here, I think, that if you add up all of the murdered humans in the British murder mystery genre, including as they are done in again on Masterpiece Theater, and Mystery, and include Hitchcock and the mostly offhand, incidental murders in many of the old Ealing Studios films from the early 1950s (I'm thinking the Alec Guinness) and the game Clue, you would have to conclude that collectively the Brits are the most notorious mass murderers in human history -- right up there with Pol Pot --- though the fact that many of the murders are so imaginatively conceived and the bodies so meticulously arranged, sometimes in meat pies if you remember your Sweeney Todd, should count for something.

For the most part, however, the murders are confined to the elite upper classes, which I think is a fine touch.

I loved the Inspector Morse series (Colin Dexter) and its followups on PBS' "Mystery", especially John Thaw's portrayal with his cranky misfiring theories about who done what, his passion for opera which was constantly being interrupted by his job (usually a dead opera buff), and especially how he would get middle-aged bachelor crushes on the females surrounding the cases, including sometimes the perpetrator and/or the victim, if not the coroner.

But, it occurred to me after awhile that most of the academic staff at Oxford and a good percentage of the townsfolk had been scragged one way or another.

The death toll per capita was impressive.

Seems that would be a scandal to be looked into after awhile. Someone check the water supply.

And don't get me started on the coroner shows here in the U.S., wherein witty repartee over the viscera of the autopsy remains (as the coroner shakes his hands over a sink while letting the detectives know what's what) seems a might bit ghoulish, if you ask me.

They should do one of those autopsy shows which dwell only on the little kids that get hold of a gun in the U.S. and shoot either themselves, their kid sister, one of their parents, the family pet, or the neighbor innocently tending to his hydrangeas in the yard.

No mystery there.

Hmmmmm... I had just started to notice that in the last few years (that the second and third murders seem to serve the purpose of (a) strewing more clues and (b) trying to tie up loose ends, if any, of the first murder), which may be why I don't seek out mysteries as much as I used to, unless I'm at an airport and need a book. And even then I steer clear of serial killers.

Here's an idea for a mass attempted murder mystery series:


So many perpetrators to track down and execute. Even Watson wouldn't be befuddled about who the main suspects are.

Carry on.

bluefoot asks: " Ugh. Seriously, why?"

I don't know why we so often turn to Ugh for the answers to life's serious questions.

I would say that there is one, but really only one, excuse for piling up the bodies. And providing additional clues or cleaning up loose ends isn't it.

It's if you are looking at a real serial killer. With an ordinary murder (what a nasty phrase!), the motives are limited as is the suspect pool. You can start with asking "Who had motive" and go from there. But with a serial killer, there may well be no relationship to the victims. So you have a whole different environment for the detective to work in.

Not that I am particularly fond of serial killer mysteries. But I can at least see an excuse for the multiple body count: you need to establish that it is a serial killer (rather than loose ends, etc.), and realistically the detective needs some more data to work with (who was in the area and so had opportunity, etc.).

currently reading Hammett's Red Harvest picked up at a garage sale. Definite fail.

That's one of the reasons I enjoyed Edmund Crispin's old-fashioned stories -- they rarely fail the test.

And bluefoot, amen. Even now it continues to surprise and horrify me how so many mystery writers write murder (or victim discovery) scenes like they were writing sex scenes.

@Jake8 - I've wondered about this re "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Everyone told me how exceedingly violent it was, and I found it considerably less violent than many other best-selling thrillers. But it didn't pretty up the violence; it showed violence as violence, not as erotica. Which is maybe why people thought it was so violent. I find that a lot less objectionable than violence as erotica, though still disturbing.

I pretty much stopped ready mystery and thrillers years ago because of the gratuitous ick, though Sherlock Holmes and Dorothy Sayers are still on my comfort/brain candy go-to list.

Thomas Perry fails the John Donne test, but I'm not sure the test applies as what he writes are more "thriller/suspense" than "murder mystery" (there's no mystery about who did the killing).

Some of his bloodier books are almost a macabre comedy of errors, as small-time corrupt people collide with big-time corrupt people. His Butcher's Boy series is very funny in a very dark manner. it isn't that the violence is played for laughs, not at all; the humor is in the characters' lack of self-awareness as they justify the ever-escalating mayhem.

So now this question has been plaguing me all afternoon: In how many of the Sherlock Holmes stories is someone actually murdered?

I remember the ones where Holmes and Watson prevent murders, but ...

Can't find any data on the Internet.

The only mysteries I ever read a lot of were Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novels. Clearly, they fail the John Donne test: Stout was intentionally writing murder mysteries. OTOH, Wolfe did seem to take many of the deaths as both a tragedy and a personal affront.

For me, the Wolfe stories had two big things going for them. Archie, because I'm a sucker for a great "companion to the hero" character, and Stout almost always gave you every single clue. Maybe it was an unfortunate choice of stories, but I got turned off Agatha Christie early on because it seemed like the killer was someone's third cousin introduced in the next-to-the-last chapter.

The interesting thing about Nero Wolfe is that those stories are so much better than Stout's other work. The best explanation I ever heard for that was:
It's just that Archie Goodwin is a better writer than Rex Stout.

The evidence does tend to support that.

For choosing what to read, I think I'll go with the George MacDonald Fraser test: "And if you tell me that every man’s death diminishes me, I’ll retort that it diminishes him a hell of a sight more" That was, of course, his hero, Flashman at his finest.

@ Count - From memory, including manslaughter (like accidental death during a struggle), I could only come up with 16 Sherlock Holmes stories that have a murder, including the novels. Interestingly, all the novels have a murder or death.

"The Killing" (original Danish one) does a brilliant job of exploring the horror of just one murder over its 22 episodes (though it does get a bit melodramatic in its final third). It can be harrowing though, particularly, I suspect, if you have children of your own.

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