Murder Mysteries are Speculative Fiction

Murder-Mystery-ClipartI am not the murderer. You have your evidence against me and I have my evidence against you. Let’s see who wins.

This past weekend, I participated in my very first Murder Mystery Dinner Party. After four years of playing Elves and Monks in Dungeons and Dragons, pretending to be a spoiled runway model for a few hours would be so simple! I wouldn’t have to roll dice or remember all of my Elven Cleric’s healing spells. This would be a relaxing break from my daily engagement with fantasy landscapes and science fiction imaginings.

But murder mysteries are speculative fiction. These stories are “genre” whether we’re writing them or acting them. Like all genres (including literary -realistic- fiction), there are expectations. We expect the murderer to be caught, for instance. We expect alibis and red herrings and the twist in your gut when suddenly everyone seems guilty and who can you possibly trust. We expect authors to add nuance and break conventions even as they fulfill our desires for closure and (maybe) justice.

To be honest, I don’t seek out mystery novels. The last mysteries I read were Nancy Drew and I was in elementary school. In high school, I read James Patterson’s Alex Cross detective thrillers, but I found the stories to be the same lackluster plot regurgitated across multiple books: good guy (male cop hero) chases murderer. The end.

I don’t remember if I was expecting justice to be dealt at the end of every book, like the moral at the end of children’s cartoons, but I definitely read those novels believing in good and evil.

That belief in black and white was no different than my love of Tolkien-style fantasy or playing Dungeons and Dragons. And even as Dungeons and Dragons, or other modern fantasy or sci fi speculative fiction, revels in blurring the lines between good and evil, I’m beginning to see stronger ties between the mystery genre and the more mainstream speculative fiction markets. We’re all under represented for one, and considered niche markets for another. But more than that, speculative fiction (across all sub genres) makes a statement about how the world works. If the cop captures the murderer and the murderer gets acquitted, we’re saying something about the legal system. If the cop captures the murderer and kills them, we’re saying something very different. If the cop captures the murderer and puts them on trial and they go to jail and suddenly the world’s a better place, again it’s a very different world we’ve created. And so on and so on.

As female writers, we have the opportunity to make our own statements with the genre fiction we write. What is your statement about our world?