Thursday, January 16, 2014

British Mysteries for Me!

I tried to watch The Following because I appreciate Kevin Bacon--not just the Six Degrees Of game, but also his adventurous spirit in accepting cameo roles and his apparent preference for Indie films. No measure of appreciation could keep me tuned in, however.

Mr. Bacon portrays an FBI agent, Ryan Hardy, broken by the necessity to turn over rocks in our civilized jungle because under those rocks, in the damp dark, are depraved deeds. As a consequence, he lost control over alcohol and honor among his colleagues. because of a single case against one serial killer who has since created an elaborate communication network for serial killers.

The first episode featured the rare woman survivor of a serial killer’s attack. Hardy hunted that serial killer, now in prison, and he grew fond of the victim who survived and she of him. When the serial killer appears to be at work outside the bars of his confinement after copycat acts and threats upon the survivor, the FBI calls upon Hardy, and he meets again the victim who has rebuilt a life, only to lose it when Hardy fails to see what no one else could see either.

Her death caused me to abandon the fledgling series. She was prey--stalked, hunted, trapped, and tortured, and her death represents something distasteful in our culture; her story is one of thousands wherein women fear for their lives and lose them graphically, their terror visceral, their end bloody, their last moments unimaginable. We ought not to be entertained by such. I’m certain that I am not.

For these reasons, I also abandoned The Blacklist after just one episode, and I refuse to see contemporary horror films. These films traffic in human suffering without the requisite catharsis.

My taste and judgment extends to crime fiction and psychological thrillers as well. Many American authors in these genres often prolong the death and the subsequent forensic examination leaving absolutely no doubt about what happened to the body and bodily fluids. On television, the series Bones regularly places every bodily insult and state of decay front and center for our viewing. British authors, on the other hand, deftly and economically declare that there is a victim and how that victim passed, but the gruesome details are glossed over, emerging only as they become clues.

The British preference for understatement does not deceive or mislead readers.  We are still aware of human suffering, of the sad ends to which our grand ambitions and postures come, but we readers need not wallow in the blood and slime of a bad end, and writers need not indulge the human drift to depravity.

Violence itself is not objectionable. Even Aristotle granted the necessity of representing violence and brutality, but warns against unrestrained depictions of both. He suggests that emotions stirred through tragedy temper us--make us stronger--as we temper steel with hot flame. In other words, we may grow more civilized through honest portrayals of our failings. But if a writer’s purpose is to make our sadistic, brutal, and masochistic impulses pleasurable, then the writer and his work dwells in an amoral universe, one that weakens the readers and watchers in it

Photo by Al Griffin

For much of British crime fiction and psychological thrillers, attention is upon the array of usual suspects made particular by details of dress, speech patterns, associations, work, and avocation. We travel beside the detectives to solve the case. We recognize the detectives’ frailties deriving from moving among those who deliver harm to their brothers, but the British detective seems less jaded, less seedy. They are the Hugh Grants of their world--able to curse without offending and lament their fates without becoming maudlin.

I recommend British crime to you--although, I grant, some of the BBC’s offerings are as gritty and soiled as those coming from the U. S. Idris Elba’s Luther or Ripper Street are on par with The Following and The Blacklist. In addition, some British authors describe the hunt and the slaughter vividly, but the work of G. M. Malliet will prove the difference of which I speak.

Reading Challenge:

Read Wicked Autumn or A Fatal Winter by G. M. Malliet. You’ll find interesting characters and a fine detective at work discerning the truth. You won’t find a lot of blood or serial killers preying upon young women, however.

Writing Challenge:

Read reviews of G. M. Malliet’s work on Amazon or GoodReads, then write a review of your favorite crime fiction novel or psychological thriller.