The trouble with murder

To be clear, I have no issue with self defence. I also have considerable sympathy for anyone who kills to escape unlawful imprisonment. It happens – and it tends to be what’s going on when women kill their abusive partners. Otherwise, the standard reasons for murder are really crappy when you look at them. Jealousy, greed, revenge. For the domestic abuse escapee, the point at which you get out is the point at which you are at most risk of being killed, because loss of control over a person feels like a reason for murder, for far too many people.

As a starting point then, I have problems with books that present murderers as interesting or sympathetic. I have a particular distaste for the ‘clever serial killer who toys with the police’ trope. I’ve read and watched enough murder mysteries to have developed a certain amount of unease. I also struggle a lot with the ‘amateur detective who just happened to be there’ model, with all due reference to Murder She Wrote, and things of that ilk.

I am perpetually uneasy about the way murder can be presented as a mental health issue – as is often the way of it in the news. On one hand I think a person has to be a particular kind of unhinged to think that killing someone is a good option in most circumstances. On the other hand, stigmatising mentally ill people is cruel and unhelpful. Most people with mental illness are a danger to themselves and not to anyone else.

It has therefore come as a bit of a surprise to me to find that I’m co-writing a cosy murder series. I like a challenge, and it’s a good opportunity to look at my beliefs and assumptions around the genre and to also consider whether I could do this on my own terms. I do want to explore what the hell has to be going on in a person’s head to make murder seem like a reasonable choice. Not to validate that choice, but to make people question the kinds of thinking that might take you there.

I don’t believe that the inclination to murder is innate, or that it comes out of nowhere. The choices we make, the beliefs we adopt, the entitlement we feel and the way we justify things are all going to contribute to a trajectory. If it isn’t an accident, and it isn’t in self defence then there’s been a journey to the point where it seems like a good idea. That’s something I’m interested in exploring.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “The trouble with murder

  • Dr Frank Malone

    Have you read Jungian scholar Susan Rowland’s The Sacred Well Murders (2022)? Set in Oxford and London, I was blown away by how she quite deliberately made it a new thing in detective novels. Eg, there are three female protagonists, not one- who embody aspects of crone/mother/maiden- and challenges a lot of traditional patriarchal framings and ways of working. It shows what happens when people who want to connect with their Celtic heritage, get possessed by deity archetypes, and who have been traumatised psychologically, and by climate change. Sorry – I didn’t set out to write a review just now!

  • Christopher Blackwell

    There are murders as a result of the danger of exposing other crimes, and then Murders as revenge as our famous Hatfield and MacCoy feud that went on for several generations.

    I am rather fan of “Murder She Wrote.” almost logical that a person who researches murder for her novels would make a good detective. Of course her 100% success rate is pure fantasy.

    Presently watch a TV series, “YellowStone” is is a modern western on steriods pitting a rancher with a huge ranch to protect, against Ingenious people hoping to use the fund from a super cansino to buy back all of their former lands, and then developers who care not how their new developments will hurt local people by raising taxes gentrifying the area with housing prices that no local person could afford. All of them believe totally in what they are doing and they feel justified the various crimes they commit, even murder to get what they want, forming temporary alliences that they dump when convient. None of the people are good guys, nor completely bad guys. Meanwhile violance, law breaking, including murder, corruption are part of ever episode. I am on the third year of the series. Total fantansy but then Movies and TV series are more fantasies then anything else.

    However I would wonder what the affect of watching these has on the childrn, glorifying what we normally would consider to be evil by our alleged community standards.

  • honorthegodsblog

    More than a decade ago, a woman physician I worked with didn’t show up at the clinic one day. The next morning, police were at my job to question everyone and monitor the phones. It was feared she’d been kidnapped. Two days longer, her body was discovered in a remote area near a nature preserve.

    Her spouse, also a physician, was the primary suspect for weeks. It turned out instead that the murdered woman had been targeted for carjacking and robbery because she drove an expensive vehicle. She was murdered because the assailants feared she’d be able to identify them.

    The murder of this woman had an enormous impact on her family (spouse, children, siblings) and friends, the many physicians and heathcare workers she’d mentored and worked with, her patients, and the larger community in which she’d lived and worked.

    The people convicted of the murder were motivated by the hopelessness of poverty. They had children, too, who were orphaned by the incarceration of their parents.

    In this case, the family and larger circle around the murdered woman were aware of the societal injustices of poverty and the carceral system. They made the extraordinary decision to help mediate those injustices by establishing scholarships for the children of the convicted murderers, and setting aside funds to provide vocational training for the murderers after their prison sentences end.

    I haven’t been able to finish a “murder mystery” since that time. For me, there has to be something more going on to push a narrative, especially since too many characters think of the deceased only as a “victim”, and the murder case as merely a job to be finished.

    I would like more characters to be aware of the injustice of the “justice system”. I would like acknowledgement of the wider impact of the murder to the deceased’s family, coworkers, and community. I would also appreciate attention to the family and friends of the accused, not just their psychological and spiritual burdens after the murder, but also the financial costs imposed on them by the “justice” and prison systems.

    I wish you well in the writing of your novel, and anticipate its publication.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you for sharing this – I think you’re entirely right about this, and that putting murder into its true social context would be an important thing to do. I’ll see what I can manage, but I am 100% taking this onboard.

  • honorthegodsblog

    Thank you!

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