Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Visit from Hector Lassiter

Good Guys, Bad Guys
&
The Not So Simple Art of Murder

(Originally printed in Writer’s Review, October 1957)

I live and die by words.

In addition to writing novels, I’m an occasional screenwriter and journalist.

On any given day, the newspaper I string for has more than its share of crime reporting. Occasionally, when somebody gets murdered by another in the reading area, family members from both sides of the crime—the loved ones of the victims and of the presumed perpetrators—reach out to the reporters or editors.

They maybe do that in an attempt to shape coverage. Sometimes it’s to try and give the paper’s staff a fuller sense of the victim. Sometimes it seems it’s simply to talk. Their grief is always unimaginable. Their sense of loss is palpable and clearly nearly insupportable.

The family of the villains are particularly tricky to talk to. They can’t get around their own memories of their loved ones. There’s an old saying among fiction writers: “The villain is the hero of his own story.” I’m not sure villains really think that way about themselves, but their loved ones unquestionably do.

Then there are the instances when loved ones of the victims are still trying to kindle the fire under cold cases. They come seeking a retrospective news story that might put backward pressure on law enforcement to give an unsolved crime a fresh look. The crime might be a decade old, but wounds of survivors are still raw and hurting.

This is all to make clear that every death means something.

Consequently, I can’t take a crime like homicide casually, even in fiction. To my mind, too many crime and mystery authors do just that. They trivialize or gloss loss. Corpses, like car chases, are just another genre trope to these so-called writers.

In truth, most murder victims know their killer.

Terrible fact is, if you’re going to end up murdered, you’re probably going to be killed by someone you know, and it’s going to be on impulse. It’s going to be messy and it’s apt to be stupid or spastic in its execution.

This is where I run into trouble with a lot of my presumed peers. I call myself a “crime writer” for a reason. I’m emphatically not a “mystery writer.” That term I regard as a kind of obscenity.

Treating murder as a bloodless affair, something cozy mystery writers like Estelle Quartermain and her ilk do all the time, is a more offensive creative choice than depicting a crime in all its graphic squalor, at least to my mind.

In Paris, in the 1920s, I made the acquaintance of a very talented female “mystery writer” who came around to my way of seeing things in terms of murder and its treatment on the page.

Having just witnessed the commission of a couple of true-life, brutal killings, mystery author Brinke Devlin was left questioning the morality of her own previous writings.

She confessed, “I write comedies of manners with bloodless murder stirred in… Locked-room mysteries can get a little deadening after a while… In life, arguments escalate and a too-hard blow falls. A man comes home from work early because he’s feeling ill and finds his wife in bed with his brother, or with the fellow down the hall. Sex fiends murder strangers as opportunity arises. Robberies go bad and somebody innocent dies. Killers simply don’t kill for the complex or arcane reasons that they do in mystery novels.”

Her epiphany ultimately drove Brinke Devlin to reinvent herself; to write very different kinds of novels in which the terror and obscenity of murder wasn’t slighted simply to advance some puzzle plot.

My new novel, The Land of Dread and Fear, focuses on a single murder. A rock is thrown into a quiet pond and the ripples not only spread wide, but gain momentum as they radiate out from the point of impact. Actions have consequences; sometimes terrible ones.

I feel a sacred obligation to give a true sense of what the act of murder exacts in every direction.

It’s an old argument really—this debate between how realistically murder should be depicted in crime and “mystery” novels.

In a famous essay titled “The Simple Art of Murder,” my old Black Mask stable mate Raymond Chandler famously wrote of Dashiell Hammett, “Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare, and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes.”

I have my own guidelines for the stories I tell: “Character is plot. Obsession is motivation. The quest, whatever else it may appear to be, is always a search for self—a race against time to a blood-spritzed epiphany. When that light bulb goes on, the world goes dark. No happy endings.”

Dear reader: Every life touches other lives.

Consequently, the snuffing out of a life should do the same thing.

© Hector Lassiter, 1957

Author, screenwriter and journalist Hector Lassiter makes his home in southern New Mexico. He is the author of numerous, critically praised crime novels and the screenwriter of several critically acclaimed thrillers.

1 comments:

Naomi Johnson April 27, 2012 at 10:37 PM  

Is it any wonder I get so het up whenever a new Hector Lassiter book is released? "No happy endings." Now THAT's a happy ending in my book.

Labels

2011 2012 2013 Ace Atkins Adrian McKinty Agnete Friis Alafair Burke Alan Bradley Alan Glynn Alan Orloff Alex Berenson Alex Dryden Alexandra Sokoloff Andrew Grant Andrew Gross Anne Zouroudi Annie Barrows Ariana Franklin Arne Dahl Attica Locke audiobook jukebox Audiobooks author events Author Q/A Barry Eisler Bernard Cornwell Beth Ann Fennelly Bill Cameron Bill Crider Bill Loehfelm Bill Pronzini blog tour Book Events Book News Brad Meltzer Brad Parks Brent Ghelfi Brett Battles Brian Azzarello Brian Freeman Brian McGilloway Bryan Gruley C. J. Box C.J. West Camilla Läckberg Cara Black Carl Hiaasen Carla Buckley Carlos Ruiz Zafon Carter Wilson Catriona McPherson Charles Cumming Charlie Huston Charlie Newton Chevy Stevens Chris Grabenstein Chris Holm Chris Kluwe Christa Faust Christopher Reich Christopher Rice Chuck Greaves CJ Lyons Claude Berube Colin Cotterill Cozy Mystery Craig Johnson Craig McDonald CRCRC crime caper Crime Fiction Crime Writers Caught Recommending Crime CWCRC D.A. Mishani Dana Cameron Daniel Palmer Daniel Silva DATW Dave Barry David Baldacci David Corbett David Ellis David Handler David Hayward David Morrell David Rosenfelt Deborah Coonts Deborah Crombie Declan Burke Denise Hamilton Denise Mina Dennis Lehane Detective Fiction Diane Stuckart Don Bruns Don Winslow Donald E Westlake Donato Carrisi Douglas Corleone Duane Swierczynski dystopian Earl Emerson ebook Ed Lynskey Edoardo Ballerini Elizabeth Hand Elizabeth Haynes Emma Donoghue Eric Beetner F. Paul Wilson FFB Five on Friday Focus Features Forensic Science Foul Play Books Francine Mathews Gabriella Herkert Gar Anthony Haywood Gayle Lynds General Fiction George Guidall George Pelecanos Gillian Flynn Graham Brown Gregg Hurwitz Hallie Ephron Hank Phillippi Ryan Harlan Coben Harley Jane Kozak Harper Lee Herman Koch Heroes and Villains Hilary Davidson Historical Fiction Hugh Laurie Ian Rankin Inger Frimansson Ingrid Thoft international thriller J.J. Myers J.T. Ellison James Barney James Conway James Crumley James DuPont James Fredericks James Grippando James Lee Burke James LePore James O. Born Jamie Freveletti Jan Burke Jane Cleland Janet Evanovich January LaVoy Jassy Mackenzie Jed Rubenfeld Jeff Abbott Jeff Woodman Jeffery Deaver Jeffrey Cohen Jeffrey Siger Jennifer McMahon JIAB2011 JIAM2013 Jill Thompson Jo Nesbø Joelle Charbonneau John Connolly John Grisham John Hart John Lescroart John Sandford John Shannon John Verdon Johnny Shaw Jon Land Jonathan Hayes Jonathan Kellerman Jonathan Schuppe Joseph Finder Joseph Wallace Joseph Wambaugh Josh Bazell Josh Corin Joy Castro Julia Heaberlin Julia Pomeroy Julia Spencer-Fleming Julie Hyzy Juliet Blackwell Karen Fossum Karen Olson Karin Slaughter Katherine Kellgren Keith Thomson Kelli Stanley Kelly Braffet Ken Bruen Ken Isaacson Kevin Guilfoile Kimberly McCreight Lachlan Smith Laura Lippman Laurie R King Lawrence Block Lee Child Left Coast Crime Legal Thriller Lene Kaaberbøl Lenny Kleinfeld Les Roberts Liad Shoham Libby Hellmann Linda Castillo Linda Fairstein Linwood Barclay Lisa Ballantyne Lisa Black Lisa Brackmann Lisa Gardner Lisa Lutz Lisa Unger Literary Mystery Lori Roy Lou Berney Louis Bayard Louise Erdrich Louise Penny Louise Ure MacLeod Andrews Marcia Clark Marcus Sakey Mark Billingham Mark Gimenez Mark Hammer Mark Pryor Mark Sullivan Markus Zusak Martin Limon Martyn Waites Mary Higgins Clark Matt Coyle Matthew Dicks Matthew Pearl Matthew Quirk Medical Thriller Meg Gardiner Megan Abbott Memoirs Meredith Cole MfM 2011 Michael Chabon Michael Connelly Michael Harvey Michael Koryta Michael Lister Michael Stanley Michael Van Rooy Michael Wiley Michelle Gagnon Middle Grade Mike Lawson military thriller Murder and Mayhem in Muskego Narrator Interviews Nevada Barr Nonfiction novella NPM Oliver Harris Owen Laukkanen p.i. fiction paranormal Paranormal Thriller Pat Conroy Paul Levine Pete Larkin Peter Berkrot Peter Robinson PI Fiction poetry Police Procedural political thriller Psychological Thriller R.J. Ellory Ralph Cosham Raymond Chandler Rebecca Cantrell Reed Farrel Coleman Reg E. Cathey Review review copy Richard Lange Ridley Pearson Robert B. Parker Robert Crais Robert Dugoni Robert Fate Robert Greer Robert Gregory Browne Robert Pobi Robin Burcell Rochelle Staab romantic suspense Rosemary Harris Ross Macdonald Rupinder Gill Ruth Rendell Ryan David Jahn S. J. Watson S.J. Rozan Sandra Ruttan Sara Gruen Sara Henry Sara Paretsky Sarah Weinman Sasha Abramsky Sci-Fi scientific thriller Scott Turow Sean Black Sean Chercover Sean Doolittle Shane Gericke Shelf Awareness review Short Stories Simon Lewis Simon Prebble Simon Vance Simon Wood Six-word Memoirs Sophie Hannah Sophie Littlefield Spencer Quinn spy thriller Stefanie Pintoff Stephen Cannell Stephen Coonts Stephen Jay Schwartz Stephen King Stephen White Steve Forman Steve Hamilton Steve Hockensmith Steve Mosby Steve Ulfelder Steven Forman Stieg Larsson Stuart Macbride Sue Ann Jaffarian Sue Grafton Susan Arnout Smith Suspense/Mystery T. Jefferson Parker Tania Carver Tasha Alexander Tess Gerritsen theme week Theresa Schwegel Thomas Holland Thomas Kaufman Thomas Young Thriller Tim Dorsey Tim Maleeny Timothy Hallinan tlc book tours Todd Ritter Tom Franklin Tom Piccirilli Tom Schreck Toni McGee Causey Tony Hays Tony Hillerman Trevanian Truman Capote Val McDermid Victor Gischler Walter Mosley Warren Ellis Wayne Arthurson Will Lavender William Kent Krueger Xe Sands xuni author Yasmina Khadra Young Adult Young Readers Yrsa Sigurdardóttir Zoë Sharp

Great Indie Bookstores

xuni

xuni
An amazing collection of authors!

TLC Book Tours

Traffic Map

FEEDJIT Live Traffic Feed

Google+ Followers

Our Blogger Templates Web Design


  © Blogger templates 'Neuronic' by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP