Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What Is It About Crime?

by Katherine Scardino

Last night, I went to a book store in my city, Houston, called Murder by the Book, and it was a thriving place. One of my associates in Women in Crime Ink, Kathryn Casey, has written a novel called Singularity, and she had a book signing at this shop, which specializes in crime stories. Kathryn’s book is a murder mystery.

I looked around the shop and noted how many people were there and started wondering: What is this draw people have toward crime, blood and guts?

I started thinking about all the books and television shows about crime - CSI, The Closer, Miami Vice, Forensic Files, and movies too many to mention. They are all popular - lots of action, lots of bone-chilling mystery.

But don’t we all hate crime? Don’t we complain about too many people committing crimes, which raises our tax dollars?

More crime makes us have to build new prisons and jails, make new courts, hire more judges, clerks, staff, pay lawyers to defend indigent defendants? And all this costs money - lots of money.

So where is the attraction? Is it like the gawker on the freeway looking at a car accident, slowing down a line of traffic behind him? Why would this driver want to see the sorrow and pain of other people? Are we all like that?

I think we get a neurophysiologic high with crime and deviant acts - a sensory high - just like that guy on the freeway who slows down and looks at that car accident expecting to see a little blood. But what is it about tragedy that draws us closer. Wouldn't it seem more instinctive to run from danger, rather than slow down for a better look?

I think we get a sense of completion from crime novels, television shows, and movies. There is a beginning, middle, and an end - all nicely tied in a bow. We are at some point introduced to the killer, and usually there is an ending which includes a police officer with handcuffs leading the bad guy off to jail.

Life for most of us is a mess. It’s like a jumbled up set of facts and circumstances that usually do not end with a nicely tied bow. There are lots of loose ends, unanswered questions.

Why did this happen to me? Why did I do that? Was it my fault? How can I fix it?

If you think about it, life is just the middle part. We do not remember being born, and death is not part of life. Still we exist and remember the middle.

But crime stories are exciting and after the murderer is unmasked, everything falls into place like a jigsaw puzzle - much unlike our lives.

Tell us why you read crime stories. What is it about them? When we're winding down from our day, and reach for a book on our nightstands, why select A Descent Into Hell, for example, instead of Restful Sleep? What brought you here, to a Web site which focuses on all things crime?


Sandy said...

I think it stems from several things. We desire to see the bad guys get "paid back". Those of us that are not emotionally attached to the perpetrator can find some satisfaction in that. If the perpetrator was someone we loved or cared about it wouldn't be so easy. Therefore, it's a matter of where we are in the grand scheme of things. Isn't it always??? Then there is our natural inquisitive nature. "INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW!" My family often questions my choice of reading material. "Mom, why do you read this junk, it's depressing." Well for one thing I keep wondering how people can do these things. Then in some of the cases I can almost see where it might also happen to me if I were in the right place at the wrong time, or even if I got into something too deep and didn't know how to get myself out. I have done things in my life that I thought I'd never do. Fortunately nothing that ruined my whole life, but things I'm not real proud of. I guess it goes back to … "But for the grace of God go I" and "Don't judge others till you have walked a mile in their shoes" Many of these things I read, I think, "I couldn't do that." "How could anyone do that?" Another thing I think about is that if I should ever be in a similar situation as some of these victims, I might glean some ideas of how to survive if I know more about it.

Grandma591 said...

Paralegal Sandy, WOW!!! I think you have been reading my mind. Every word you wrote was what I would have said. I'm always getting comments like: Why do you read such horrendous stories, don't they scare you-keep you worried and up all night? I want to know what is going on in this world of ours. I want to know why people do such horrible things to other human beings. What is their reasoning,what made them this way, and what kind of person should I be on the lookout for, so that maybe if I am caught in a similar situation, I might be able to get help-find my way out. What can I do to keep not just myself, but mt family and friends safe? Why do they commit such crimes, when I don't? I have to admit, there is something in a crime book that will grab you and pull you right in to the story,then POW! your caught at least until the end of the story. If it really has a strong hold on you, it will stay with you long after the story ends, and you might end up looking up more about the events in the story. I do admit, I am hooked on true especially, but I do also read crime fiction. Thanks alot. Grandma591

Anonymous said...

All of the above and the fact that truth is stranger than fiction. My ex thought there was something wrong with me becuase I am consumed by true crime and I don't have a problem looking a grotesque pics of dead and bloody people. The only thing about autopsys that bother me is the smell, but I am fascinated with everything else. But, I understand that it isn't for everyone and I can't blame people that don't have an interest. I haven't read anything fiction since Lit class during my college days.

Anonymous said...

Is it adrenalin? Is there a rush we get when reading about crime, the intensity, the emotion and living (if not briefly) the experience. Unlike the victim, we get to go back to our quiet bedrooms, and know that it didn't happen to us. It is also wanting to see the end...I agree with that. Having a story tied neatly up into a bow. I hate reading about the college coed raped and murdered in Nevada...with no suspect apprehended, the Wisconsin coed stabbed to death in her apartment with no suspects...a Jessica Lunsford with no comprehensible reason for something that horrible ever happening. It is not distraction, it is a compulsion and a need to know that even if evil happens, there is retribution for that evil.