Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Killing the Good Guys

by Kathleen Ernst

Murder scene 10355ow0tj1tld8 FreeDigitalPhotos

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!

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image courtesy Simon Howden, http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=404


Lois Winston said...

Kathleen, I think there's something cathartic about "just desserts." People like to see justice served, even for the wrong reasons or in the wrong way when there's a character they detest for the way he or she acts. In my own series, I've actually had some people ask me when I'm going to kill off Anastasia's mother-in-law because to their minds she "needs killing." Then again, there are others who love her. However, I have no plans to kill her because she's the character in my books that everyone loves to hate.

Robin Allen said...

I'm always sad when a nice person dies, but it gives the sleuth a good incentive to seek justice. My victims are usually pretty awful, so you're glad when they finally bite it.

Shannon Baker said...

I get inspired by TV shows that kill important characters. It sure adds a twist. Joss Wheddon did it all the time in Buffy, and Damages if full of unexpected dead folks.

Dru said...

As long as it moves the story along, I can deal with a beloved character being killed.

Beth Groundwater said...

In the typical cozy mystery, the victim is always someone that many people love to hate, including the reader. Thus, there's an immediate pool of suspects. Like you, however, I prefer to veer from the typical cozy formula sometimes and to make a sympathetic character the victim. That's one reason I call my Claire Hanover gift basket designer books "edgy cozies" and my RM Outdoor Adventures books "soft-boiled". Neither series follows the cozy formula exactly.

Kathleen Ernst said...

One of the wonderful thing about books is that there's something for everyone--reader and writer alike!