by Linda Rodriguez
One of the secret benefits of writing crime novels and short fiction is the chance to vicariously kill off people who have worked hard at pissing you off. We’re seldom violent people, we mystery writers, even though we write about murder and lesser crimes. We’re usually polite and kind to our friends and family and gentle with kids and animals. If you know a lot of crime writers, you know we’re mostly very nice people. I believe mystery and thriller writers are the nicest group of writers there are, and I know a lot of various kinds of writers.
My theory about all that niceness is twofold: Nice people may just be drawn to write mysteries and thrillers, or we’re all so nice because we have the chance to work off all our anger in our books. I know I’ve been able to deal with a certain person’s nasty behavior in real life much more easily since I wrote a scene where a similar character was mowed down by reams of bullets in a classic gangland shooting.
For that matter, listening to mystery writers at a professional conference talk at meals or in the bar can be scary for outsiders. We swap good ways to murder, especially in ways that are difficult to prove, and methods and places to dispose of bodies. I’ve watched waitresses and bartenders stand back from a group of us with leery eyes as they overhear bits and pieces of what must seem a violent conspiracy. I suspect the really troubling thing is that all this morbid conversation is always full of great cheer and hilarity.
This ability to extract satisfying revenge on the page can remove lots of resentment and hurt from our lives. That co-worker who goes around behind everyone’s back, telling lies to stir up trouble in the workplace that costs people their promotions or even their jobs—smash her over the head with a fax machine. The senior faculty member who steals your research and passes it off as his own, branding you as a pathetic liar when you protest—how about rat poison in his coffee? The old schoolmate who made you a laughingstock at the last reunion—have her hit and run over by a car. The guy who humiliated and dumped you publicly after “borrowing” all your savings—let a crazed serial killer catch up with him and slash him up. The ex-wife who cheated on you all through your marriage and then took your house and kids to go off with someone else—fake a suicide with a handgun to the head (that your smart detective will see through immediately). The sexually harassing boss who threatens to destroy your career if you complain or don’t let him have his slimy way with you—tie him up naked for kinky sex and smother him with a pillow over his face.
So the next time you’re at a crime writers conference, look around at all those sweet, funny, and kindly mystery authors and ask yourself, “Why are these people smiling?”