Today I am pleased to host fellow crime writer David Robinson, who is musing on a subject that also troubles me at times, both as a writer and as a reader - violence in crime novels.
A few nights back, I watched the movie, Scum, and I was interested to note that the BBC commissioned this film in 1979, but then refused to broadcast it because it was too violent.
Would they have any such qualms these days?
There’s a tendency to increasingly graphic violence in entertainment. From cinema and TV, through reading matter, right down to computer and video games, the writers and directors are pulling fewer punches. We are confronted with sights which were once the exclusive preserve of the horror movie. Scenes of mangled or half burned bodies on the autopsy slab are commonplace. Bodies found in woodland, half decayed, with bits missing, barely raise an eyebrow.
As writers, it’s part of our lot to stretch the boundaries, examine people, their motivation, action and reaction, show them warts and all. We’re never afraid to examine the issues, as, for example, Frances’ latest novel, Someday Never Comes.
But is it necessary to be so graphic?The perpetrators in my novels, The Handshaker, and its sequel, The Deep Secret, place the value of a human life lower than the gratification to be had from taking that life in the cruellest means possible. They view others, particularly women, as objects placed upon this Earth to satisfy their sadistic needs, and having done so, to be discarded with the same disinterest as we throw away a cigarette butt.
The Handshaker is as dark as Frances’ excellent, Bad Moon Rising, but in the original manuscript the early scenes, the ones most likely to cause offence, were toned down. I was advised by an industry professional to make them more graphic, and despite my reservations, I did so. When my publisher, Crooked Cat Books, took the project on, still doubtful, I offered to revert to the original. They said, ‘no, it’s fine as it is.’ After release, reader reaction was by and large, favourable. Women, particularly, find the tale fascinating, and most appear unconcerned at the opening horrors. “It serves as a warning against what could happen,” one female reader told me.
This took me by surprise. Am I out of touch with what the reader wants? Am I simply old fashioned? I don’t think so, but I do recall a radio interview with the master of horror, Christopher Lee, during which he said the key to the success of the great Hammer movies lay not in what they showed, but what they did not show; i.e. that which they left to the viewer’s imagination.
Reading The Handshaker makes me feel uncomfortable, and faced with the prospect of turning out the sequel, The Deep Secret, I had little choice but to include the graphic once again. Spread over eighty years, it has scenes of physical and sexual brutality before, during and after World War Two, set against one man’s greed for the secret to absolute control of others.
And when I read through it, I feel uncomfortable once more.
The Deep Secret is published in all e-formats and paperback by Crooked Cat Books on October 25th. You can pre-order the paperback at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Deep-Secret-David-Robinson/dp/1909841234