Are Murder Mysteries Immoral?

There was a post today on DorothyL, the mystery digest,  that really bugged me.

My spouse and I recently had an argument about the morality of showing a
murder in every episode–the implication being that people, especially children, would take away the impression that the world is a violent and  menacing place. I countered with the argument that the show contains a  fundamental morality in the search to apprehend the evil-doers and bring them to justice. I think the same applies to writing murder mysteries.

The world is a violent and menacing place….and one murder-a-week on any TV series is a far cry from the number of murders that are actually committed in the United States each day. But beyond that, how could a murder mystery possibly be construed as immoral? It’s wrong to murder somebody… and that’s the basic assumption & message of every murder mystery ever written. 

That said, does that make Barry Eisler’s RAIN series, or Lawrence Block’s HITMAN series, or Thomas Perry’s BUTCHER BOY, or Donald Westlake’s PARKER books immoral to read and enjoy because the protagonists engage in immoral behavior?

This is the kind of neanderthal thinking that gets books banned… and leads to things like that English teacher who was castigated for asking high school students to write a murder mystery in her creative writing course.

Then again, a lot of folks on DorothyL also think MONK is offensive because it makes fun of someone with obsessive compulsive disorder.

5 thoughts on “Are Murder Mysteries Immoral?”

  1. I think my family doesn’t appreciate my constant reading of murder mysteries, but I feel the same way. These are probably some of the most moral stuff out there. After all, our hero is trying to get justice done.

  2. Lee, you have convinced me that it was a good idea to cancel my subscription to DorothyL. (I did so a couple months back when some jerk started laying into Rochelle Krich and set off a shitstorm.)
    People are strange animals.

  3. My mom doesn’t like murder mysteries at all. I think it’s probably the fact that they scare her. I come by my easily scared nature naturally. I remember taking home a tape with Diagnosis Murder on it to show my parents what Dick van Dyke looks like now and she almost refused to watch it, even though I had picked a clip that had nothing to do with the plot.
    I think it’s also the idea that murder is wrong. The idea that the murder is treated as wrong never enters their mind.
    Of course, most fiction has a villian, whether it’s a murder mystery or not. And the villian usually kills people and does other immoral things….
    And if you looked at the mysteries I choose to read, you’ll see I shy away from most anything buy cozies.
    Keep in mind I don’t know this for sure. I’m guessing from body language and tone of voice, and I could be misreading clues. Considering how often I’m surprised in my books, it wouldn’t be the first time I misread something. And honestly, if my family had a serious problem with it, they would have said something to me. They still parent me, and I’ll be 30 in two months.


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