I’ve come, over the past week or so, to realise that the best murder mysteries are, ultimately, about serial killers.
Not, necessarily, the Gory Hannibal Lecter type of serial killers; even the classic Agatha Christies, for example, seem to work even better when the Nemesis has a couple of (or preferably three) victims.
The classic Murder mystery pits a sleuth against a murderer. There’s a first murder – a hook; something to attract the attention of both the sleuth and the reader. Normality has been upset; the natural order has been broken, and must be restored.
And if there’s one murder, and the detective can investigate and, eventually, unmask the killer, then it can be a good story. But what makes it a Great story is when the stakes are upped.
Anyone can kill – people do it all the time, because they’re too stupid not to; they get angry, or greedy, they forget how complicated it is, not just to effectively murder another human being, but to get away with it. And so, very often, they are, in rather short order, caught and locked up.
But, in a story – as in real life – if they get away with the first murder, and then proceed to commit a second murder, they move up from being merely a murderous idiot, to a murderous idiot who has learned what Miss Fullerton, in Christie’s novel of the same name, states: “Murder is easy.”
The stakes are increased; the challenge upped. We are no longer walking alongside a detective as he (or she) seeks an idiot who committed a murder; we’re seeking a maniac who has killed, killed again, and, if not stopped, could, in theory go on killing. There’s more than the restoration of the natural order at stake now; there’s the risk of the total – and permanent – collapse of the natural order.
So yes, all good murder mysteries are, ultimately, about the hunt for a serial killer.
Today, I remembered what it feels like to spend two hours writing a mystery novel, read back what you’ve done, and grin the Cheshire cat grin that only comes with knowing that it’s really getting there.
My next book – titled only “DB2” for now – is coming along; and more importantly, the writing of it is bringing back to me the wonderful feeling of familiarity, fear and excitement that one only gets when doing something risky, untried a little scary and yet thoroughly enjoyable; like sex with a new lover, starting work on a new book always proves to me that, whilst it may not be entirely easy, murder can be Fun.