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Life and Death and Crime Novels

Friday, February 19th, 2016

Like all crime writers, I explore death daily, in what I read and what I write. It’s a game, of course. Some of my brother/sister writers love every graphic detail of dismemberment. I’m too squeamish for that, but still, VI Warshawski has just encountered a dead body in a rural kitchen, where there’s plenty of scope for gruesome description.

In real life, I’ve been with two people as they died, my father and my closest friend in college; she died of a difficult auto-immune disease when we were 25. The difference between the country of the living and the country of the dead is so complete that when you’ve been spending time in the country of the dead you don’t easily return to the living.

I almost lost my husband last week. He had pneumonia, he’s 92, and his trajectory downhill was steep and swift. Drugs brought him back. He’s still weak but definitely on the mend. The 48 hours where I thought I was losing him still are tearing me apart; I knew what I was witnessing, I’d been in its presence twice before.

I think the game we writers play, toying with death, is a shield. I don’t feel guilt or shame or a sense that I should choose a different subject.  But my recent reminder of the end that awaits us all reaffirms my decision not to harrow my readers. Novels like mine should offer a place of refuge, not a place of devastation. This is why no one important in my books will ever die. Loss in real life is too painful; I’m not going to add to my woes or those of my readers by killing Lotty Herschel or Mr. Contreras, Peppy or Mitch. Certainly not the girl detective herself.

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