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Can you have a great mystery novel without ‘blood’ and ‘guts’?

Can you have a great mystery novel without 'blood' and 'guts'?

I certainly think so, although recently I’ve found it more difficult to find them. The real masters of the genre have never used graphic violence to ‘spice up’ their plots. Agatha Christie, P.D James, Ruth Rendell (writing also as Barbara Vine), Josephine Tey and Susan Hill can create genuine chills through their suspenseful prose, interwoven with just the hint of the worst crimes that mankind (and womankind) are capable of. These great writers avoid stomach churning descriptions of blood and guts but rely instead on very clever storytelling and well observed characterisation. However, now that we expect a certain amount of gore in our T.V dramas and mystery fiction, is it possible to write a top novel in this field without it? Or will we now need to create a whole new genre of fiction for this type of narrative? It’s a large field and I hope there’s room for everyone’s tastes within it- I certainly enjoy a good ‘serial-killer chiller’ myself, but my favourites are those books that tease me along with a labyrinthine plot and a final conclusion that actually seems plausible to me because I feel that I understand the motives of the main characters. I don’t like an ending that just parachutes in from nowhere and makes me feel dissatisfied and cheated. Any suggestions on great writers; new and old who manage to achieve this would be gratefully received.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Absolutely agree with you about Agatha Christie. I read so many of her books when I was in my teens, and I always thought that she was such a “smart” writer–she never resorted to descriptions of graphic violence, yet her plots often included accounts of very violent crimes! So often our own imaginations are more vivid than anything we could read on the page, and it takes a gifted writer to bring that out of the reader!


    September 18, 2013
    • Yes I agree, and Agatha Christie is still the most widely read fiction author in the world (I think that’s right!). Somehow I feel that television adaptations are guiding the type of mystery stories that are written, as there is now a greater emphasis on the ‘visual’. However, when writing, there are a lot more ways that we can create suspense. Thanks for the comment.


      September 18, 2013
  2. I think we can have great mystery novels without the graphic violence. Personally, I prefer a mystery or thriller novel that’s driven by characterization, complex subplots, and suspenseful prose. Honestly, I think too much violence undermines the story. As a reader I end up focusing on all the gore instead of the story and I don’t like that. As a writer, I assume readers don’t want to get caught up in graphic violence, otherwise they would read dark fiction instead.


    September 18, 2013
  3. Reblogged this on The RetroReview and commented:

    This was my very first blog! Although ‘cozy mysteries’ are now a firmly established genre in crime fiction, I believe this question is still an important one.


    March 2, 2016

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