This post concludes a series of posts discussing the role of families in mysteries. Almost all
mysteries have strong family involvement. My last post Saskatchewan Sleuths with Families sets out the varied families. I asked several Saskatchewan mystery authors why their sleuths had families. Anthony Bidulka, Nelson Brunanski and Gail Bowen graciously provided me with the following thoughts. Saskatchewan
From Anthony Bidulka, author of the Russell Quant series:
This is an interesting topic. One I must admit I hadn't thought about before now. And maybe that is your answer right there. For certain writers -
writers? - family is such a major part of our lives, that to write about a main character who does not have family in his life, would be like writing about a Saskatchewan detective who doesn't own a winter coat (interesting idea though... but I digress.) It is second nature to us. Saskatchewan
I wonder if the fact you've seen an upshot of the family centric mysteries post 1990 is related to the growth of mystery genres in that time, and the popularity of the shall we say, less than traditional mystery. Whereas the noir and procedural thrillers are still successful, there has come to be more room for the type of book I write, which I often refer to as 'traditional with a twist', which allows for a little less mystery, and a little more character development. With that, in
at least, and I'd guess elsewhere too, family involvement (entanglement) quickly comes to the forefront. Saskatchewan
Thanks for the thought-provoking question, Bill. I'll be interested to see what your collection of sleuth-creators has to say.
To you, and all you hold dear, have a splendid Christmas season.
From Nelson Brunanski, author of the Bart Bartkowski series:
Thanks for your interest in my Small-town Saskatchewan Mysteries.
My reasons for including family:
2) Families are involved in the mysteries by virtue of the protagonist's (amateur sleuth) involvement and therefore suffer the same perils.
3) My murder mysteries rely on character, customs and the social fabric as much as on the crime itself. Families naturally provide links to these subjects.
4) Families thrive in small-towns and provide a real context for story telling, evoking prairie values as well as idiosyncratic attitudes.
5) I draw on my experience growing up in small-town
where family ties are strong and everybody knows everybody else's business. Saskatchewan
6) Characters without families (or characters who are new to the town) provide an opportunity to draw comparisons and bring unorthodox points of view to the stories.
I hope this helps,
All the best
From Gail Bowen, author of the Joanne Kilbourn – Shreeve series:
Here you go, Bill. Happy 2012!
Gail Bowen – Blog entry on
crime fiction and the fact that our protagonists have and love their families and domestic circumstances. Saskatchewan
The question Bill Selnes raises is a good one. Certainly the protagonists of crime fiction in
and the England tend to be lone wolves, fighting the institutions that they believe corrupt others and themselves. Not surprisingly, the first institution these protagonists reject is family. These protagonists trust nothing and no one and that includes those to whom they are tied by blood and history. U.S.
A second reason why many crime writers separate protagonists from their domestic circumstances is pragmatic. For all of us family is the most complex and formative relationship in our lives. And for many crime writers this is a good and sufficient reason to cut their protagonist loose from the web of relationships that link protagonists to their families. Simply put, for writers whose fiction is plot driven, families are a distraction that keeps them from the real business of their work: developing plot.
But Bill Selnes’ question centres on the fact that when it comes to families and domestic circumstances,
writers of crime fiction tend to deviate from the ‘norm.’ I’m certain the reasons for this deviation are many and varied, but I can offer one that is true of my work. Saskatchewan
This summer a reader approached me at the Farmers’ Market and told me that she and a friend had posed a general question about fiction writers than intrigued them. Here’s their question: “If you could live in the fictional world that you have created, would you?” My answer was that I do live in the fictional world that I’ve created. Mine is a world that centres on the people close to me. Nothing matters to me more than my husband, my children, my grandchildren, my friends and my community.
Alastair MacLeod says that ‘writers write about what worries them’. What worries me is anything that threatens the safety or the happiness of the people I love. I believe this is a universal fear, but certainly it is a fear that is shared by the people to whom I’m closest, and they are largely
I’ve always believed that Joanne Kilbourn-Shreve is a very
protagonist. She is driven by her love for those around her but she is also driven by her awareness of the inequities of her world. Like J.S. Woodworth, Joanne believes that “What we desire for ourselves we wish for all. To this end, may we take our share in the world’s work and the world’s struggles.” In Kaleidoscope, the 13th novel in the JK-S series, Joanne commits herself even more fully to the world’s work and the world’s struggles. Saskatchewan
As someone who taught fiction (International,
and American) I’ve been tantalized by the question of a writer who has ‘created’ a world. Would they wish to live there?” U.K.
Thank you to each of Anthony, Gail and Nelson. Each of you has given me more to think about with regard to sleuths with families.