by Kathleen Ernst
I recently joined a book group to discuss my Chloe Ellefson mysteries, and one of the members had a question I hadn’t fielded before. In the first book, Old World Murder, a very nice character is killed about mid-way through. “How can you create such an appealing character and then kill him off?” she asked.
We discussed the choice of victims in murder mysteries, and the conversation moved on. However, I’ve been thinking more about it. In the second Chloe mystery, The Heirloom Murders, two nice people are killed. In The Light Keeper’s Legacy, which comes out in October, another nice person takes the hit.
I didn’t plan to kill a sympathetic character per se. In each case, the victim suited the needs of the story. Creating a sympathetic victim can up the emotional stakes too, making it even more important to find the killer and bring him/her to justice.
I’m well into the opening stages of writing a fourth Chloe mystery. In this one, by chance, I took the opposite approach. The victim is a generally unpleasant woman. Once the crime is committed lots of people can go on the suspect list because she did so many not-nice things to so many people.
Obviously, there is no right or wrong approach. I do think, though, that I’ll try to keep balance in mind as the series progresses.
How about you? Do you prefer your mysteries to include unlikeable murder victims? Do you appreciate the extra heart-tug when a favorite character dies? Or does it not matter? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
image courtesy Simon Howden, http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=404