Friday, April 19, 2013

Too many murders

Too Many Murders is the title of one of Colleen McCullough's novels, one that's still somewhere in my stack of unread books. This title, it seems to me, would be suitable for most murder mysteries and most thrillers. They have too many murders, more than is necessary for a good murder mystery.

I recently finished Charles Todd's 2011 Bess Crawford mystery A Bitter Truth. Bess is a British nurse in France during the Great War. While home for a Christmas leave, she becomes drawn into the affairs of another family, affairs that include an abused wife, unceasing mourning for a little girl who died years previously and the discovery of an orphan in France who looks amazingly like the dead girl. And then the murders begin, one after another. This is actually a pretty good novel, but I couldn't help wondering if multiple murders were necessary to build sufficient mystery and suspense. Wouldn't one have been sufficient?

When is the last time you read a mystery in which there was just one murder? When I look back at the mysteries I have read so far in 2013, I find that "too many murders" seems to be the rule, rather than the exception. Full Dark House, Nemesis, The Forgotten, A Beautiful Blue Death and The Disappearance at Pere Lachase all have two or more murders. The same goes for a couple of books now in progress.

Serial killers are nothing new in fiction. Last year I read the 1931 novel Francis Beeding's Death Walks in Eastrepps, which is about a vicious serial killer. Old-time mystery writers like Agatha Christie usually did very well with just one murder per book, however. In her classic story Murder on the Orient Express, Christie has multiple murderers, but just one murder. That was plenty.

It is, unfortunately, not just in fiction that we see inflationary murder. Killing people in bulk seems to be an almost daily occurrence in the world we live in today. Do you suppose there could be some connection? Homicidal people, like homicide writers, want to attract attention, and in the world we now live in, one murder is apparently not enough.

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