It Was Dark, It Was Stormy, It Was Paradise
Recently, and for no particular reason, I tried to remember the first crime or mystery book I ever read. Since I am a woman of a certain age, it was, of course, a Nancy Drew book. I couldn’t recall which book, but I did remember my childhood thrill at being on a dark and stormy adventure with the girl sleuth. Danger! Daring! Disobedience!
Disobedience. Yeah, that was the hook for me. Disobedience all the way around. Disobedient Nancy, doing daring and dangerous things a respectable, well behaved girl shouldn’t do, like pursuing criminals. And criminals by definition are disobedient, doing whatever they want, usually bad things like theft and murder, but hey, they didn’t ask Mommy or Daddy if they could go out and do it. For a straining-at-the-leash kid like me, Nancy Drew’s world of crime and crime solving was a paradise of disobedience, redeemed by good triumphing over evil.
Adulthood has taken the shine off the good-triumphing-over-evil part. We know — through horrifying headlines, even our own personal experiences and crushing disappointments — that good often loses the game. But for me, and perhaps for many crime fiction writers, the lure of disobedience lingers. It’s not only at the core of the criminals we create and the criminal acts we have them perform, disobedience can also power crime solvers: all those rule-breaking cops and PIs.
As crime and mystery writers, we must find empathy within us for all of our characters in order to give them full human dimension. That means understanding the criminal as well as the crime solver, burrowing inside their disobedience to get to the root of their acts. Like the little kid I once was, I still find that thrilling. I even find freedom. In our real lives, we are constrained by various rules, most of them necessary in order to maintain a functioning society. Many of society’s rules, though, are annoying, trapping us in bureaucratic red tape, computer intransigence, general injustice, and other irritating entanglements. Writing crime, writing about people who disobey society’s rules, provides a liberating relief. I don’t have to ask Mommy, Daddy, or the boss who signs my paycheck if I can vicariously rob a bank, kill someone, or disobey the rules in order to catch a killer. Freedom!
Well, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it, as they say. If you’re a crime fiction writer or reader, I have a feeling it’s your story, too. We’re all grown up now, we won’t get our hands slapped or sent to bed without dessert for our attitude of disobedience. As writers, we’ll make art of it.
Long live crime fiction and the disobedient souls who write it and read it.
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Lambda and Goldie winner Ann Aptaker isn’t shy about telling you how much she loves her hometown, New York City. She swears she even feels its history; all those triumphs and tragedies of the famous and the forgotten. She’s now old enough to be part of that history, which she likes, except for the “old” part, which she’s iffy about. Aptaker is happy to bring you into that history in her Cantor Gold crime series.