J. Grace Pennington

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Too Many Murders

I’m a very big fan of detective and mystery stories. I always have been. From Encyclopedia Brown when I was seven, to Nancy Drew when I was twelve, from Sherlock Holmes in my teens, to Agatha Christie as an adult–I love a good whodunnit. I also enjoy mystery TV shows–Monk, Psych, Murder, She Wrote… if it’s clever and mysterious and more or less clean, I like it.

It wasn’t surprising that for my first “serious” works when I was a young teen I chose to write a mystery series–about twins, Annie and Bobby Tucker. They took on cases and solved them for four “novels,” though the quality of the writing and the plots makes me shudder in horror now. Maybe it was these early failures that steered me away from writing mysteries for a long while after that. Mystery didn’t want to leave me though, and hints of it wound their way into the Firmament series, then entered Never so blatantly that it had to be classified as a “Western mystery” rather than the plain “Western” I had originally intended.

Since I now have an idea for a mystery series of my own (all rather classified and back-burning at the moment, I’m afraid), I’ve been watching and reading even more mysteries. But after several weeks of consuming nearly a mystery a day in one form or another, I got tired of it.

Tired of the mysteries? No, not really.

Tired of the murders.

As a child, I wasn’t allowed to read mysteries that had murders in them, for fear I would be traumatized. Given my peculiar combination of fearfulness and morbidity as a child, this was no doubt wise. But no such restriction was laid upon me as I grew older, and since most mystery stories revolve around murders, I began to see a great many.

It didn’t traumatize or bother me, nor did it desensitize me. As an adult, I could handle the reality of it. But after reading and watching mystery upon mystery centered around a murder, I started to grow weary of it. I stopped reading and watching for a week, and went to pondering.

What was it that bothered me so about the murders? They weren’t gory, and more often than not, the detective character was profoundly sorry for the deceased and sympathetic towards their friends and relations. The murderer was always swiftly and cleverly brought to justice. So what was the matter?

A clue came to me when I remembered Katie Lynn Danielsebook on the sanctity of life. In the book, Katie talks about the sanctity of life, what it means, and the responsibility of writers to uphold the principle by how they treat human life in their stories.

I realized it wasn’t so much that murders happened that bothered me. It was the frequency and the attitude. Not the attitude of the characters, in most cases; the attitude of the writers.

If you need a mystery for your character to solve, the immediate idea is to throw in a murder. It makes sense. It’s dramatic, it’s terrible, it leaves lots of suspects, and requires lots of intrigue. Sounds good, right?

Maybe not. Human life–and death–is not something to trifle with. Certainly, writing murder mysteries is fine. But think about it–why are you including this element? Because the plot really requires the serious, horrific act? Because you are trying to make a point about justice that will be strengthened by the heinous crime? Or because it’s just a handy plot element to stick in?

I believe that how much thought and prayer we put into this issue really shows in the finished product. In some murder mysteries, the murder is perceived as a tragedy by all, and they don’t lose sight of that. They are focused on justice and protection for those left behind. It’s a serious thing. But in some murder mysteries, it’s treated more like a fun romp, with loads of quirky suspects, an enjoyable puzzle to solve, and a villain with some flimsy motive such as being impatient to inherit a few hundred dollars.

And we’re just so used to it, I think we sometimes take murder for granted.

What if, instead, when we do use murder as a plot element, we treat it for what it is? One of the most terrible crimes that exists against God and man, a severe and horrible ravaging of God’s image, and the cold-blooded snuffing out of His greatest gift–the gift of life.

For my part, I’m considering having my detective be more interested in preventing murders than solving them. Perhaps he will work, within the law, to protect and defend the threatened, discover who is putting them in danger, and find a way to stop the criminals before it’s forever too late.

I’ve gone back to watching and reading murder mysteries now. But I don’t see the murders the same any more. I don’t think I ever will.

And I’m glad.

21 Responses to Too Many Murders

  1. These are very good thoughts, Miss Pennington. 🙂 I know exactly what you mean. I’m not a huge fan of mysteries in general; and the ones I /do/ enjoy tend to revolve around a crime like a kidnapping or a robbery. I don’t know why this is; I think maybe because I have a great dislike of sad scenes (especially those that revolve around deaths).

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

    • Grace says:

      Thank you, Renna! I’ve also thought that it would be good if more mysteries revolved around non-homicidal crimes such as kidnapping or robbery. 🙂

  2. Good thoughts, Grace. 🙂

  3. Speaking of preventing murders – have you seen the show Person of Interest? It’s got that idea going on… I’ve seen a few episodes (my mom really likes it)

  4. Rebecca says:

    Good thoughts – we should think carefully about everything we’re putting in our writing. We may not even realize, but every tidbit we put in our books can leave an impression on someone. We want to make sure we aren’t putting our stamp of approval on something that isn’t holy, or at least making it look like we agree.
    But I agree with the murder – can’t wait to see what you do! 🙂

  5. Faith B. (Lady Katharina) says:

    Great thoughts, Grace! And a series of mysteries? Lovely! 🙂

  6. Faith says:

    I too love mysteries!

    The first series I read was the Ollie Chandler Collection. I came away from those freshly reminded that death is serious, and I was left with the desire to spread the Gospel even more, because death comes for all.

    Last week I read Seeds of Evidence, by Linda J. White. This mystery was inspired by the horror of human trafficking, and the sad ending of the case highlights the plight of those in modern slavery.

    Back on Murder was another one, the terrible ending reminding us how depraved this world can be.

    Death was handled seriously in these books, and I think it is so important that when death is part of a book, that it be handled soberly and never just as a plot element.

    I would love to read a series like the one you described. *hopes you can write it soon!*

    I agree with this. Very much so. Thank you for getting me thinking!!!

    • Grace says:

      Thank you for the comment, Faith! I actually haven’t read or heard of any of those, they sound interesting!

      I agree that when used correctly, dark topics such as murder can be very powerful, thought-provoking, and can teach a lot of truth. You’re so right that it must be handled soberly and carefully!

      So glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂

  7. Faith says:

    Those books were so good! 🙂 and thank you for writing this!

  8. Annie Hawthorne says:

    I’m the exact same way when it comes to mysteries, after awhile the murders can get rather redundant. The fact that the Sherlock Holmes stories are not constantly centered around murders is one of the many reasons that they will remain some of my favourite Mystery books of all time. 🙂 Those were some very good thoughts about the responsibility of writers needing to remember the sanctity of life in their books. As a fledgling writer I sometimes forget about that. Thank you for reminding me. 🙂 *must check out Katie’s book*

    I’m excited about your mystery series, Grace!! And I very much like the idea of your detective striving to prevent the crimes before they happen…instead of waiting until the crime has occurred to take action. I can’t wait to see what comes of your mysteries simmering on the hob!! 😀

    • Grace says:

      I was thinking that about Sherlock Holmes, Annie. 😀 They are some of my all-time favorites also. I’m glad you enjoyed the article, and I do hope you enjoy Katie’s book, if you give it a read! 😀

  9. Elizabeth K says:

    I just had a mystery novel walk up to me, and so in my first blundering attempts at a mystery I plan on trying to follow these ideas… 😀 We shall see what happens. ^_^

    (Also, ideas do come at the busiest times… :P)

  10. Rebecca says:

    This is totally un-writing related, but I saw on your Instagram you’re thinking of doing scarf tutorials – and I’m just coming here to second the idea! Yes, yes. I love scarves, but know so few ways to wear them. 🙂

  11. Jeremiah says:

    Being pretty sensitive to things like that in a story, I appreciated reading this. 🙂 It put some of my feelings/thoughts into words for me. It’s also good for me to read, since I’m a writer–even though I don’t really plan on writing a mystery anytime soon (too hard o.O).

    I like the idea of having a detective who tries to prevent murder a whole lot better than seeing a character die and then spending the story trying to bring someone to justice. Looking forward to reading someday. 😀

    • Grace says:

      I’m glad, Jeremiah. 🙂 And I hope the stories will live up to your expectation! You should try a mystery sometime. 🙂