Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Killing For Kicks

I Q&A’d Mike Nicol (see below) last week, and Mike was kind enough to return the rubber-hose favour over at South Africa’s Crime Beat, with an excerpt running thusly:
Crime Beat: What’s the average kill count in your novels?
Declan Burke: Pretty low, I have to say. I’m not a fan of gratuitous murders, and I especially hate killing for the sake of advancing a plot, or to get rid of an inconvenient character, or to invoke some undeserved pathos. I think two people died violently in my first novel, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, and none at all in the second, THE BIG O. Actually, THE BIG O was in part conceived as a fun exercise in how authentically I could write a crime novel without any killings and the bare minimum of violence. I had a friend who died young, and violently, so maybe that’s one reason I don’t take lethal violence lightly.
  That was a question that got me wondering: what’s an acceptable ‘kill count’ in a novel? Should I be killing off more people in my books? Are there people who put down books when they’ve finished, disappointed and muttering about the lack of corpses, the way some people complain about a lack of sex in a novel?
  There’s a character in a book that’s out with publishers for consideration right now (a Harry Rigby story, THE BIG EMPTY), and he’s a fairly repulsive character, and at one point I so badly wanted to kill him off – except it wasn’t absolutely necessary that he had to die. So, while the guy took a bit of beating, he got to live … Now I’m wondering if I shouldn’t have just gone ahead and slotted him.
  Maybe it’s because the story takes place in Sligo, in northwest Ireland, where a murder, or any kind of violent death, is still a very big deal, as it is anywhere else in Ireland. In that context, the context of the story and its setting, it’s hard to justify anything more than the absolute essential in terms of corpses. But there’s something more to it, too: the idea that, in a world where life gets cheaper by the day, and I include Ireland in that, there’s a kind of responsibility that goes with writing about violence and death. I definitely think that people (and I eventually come to think of characters as ‘people’) shouldn’t be slaughtered for the sake of ‘entertainment’ and vicarious thrills. As for the ‘torture porn’ that masquerades as some kind of social commentary, in which an author is so concerned about (say) the rape, torture and murder of women that he / she recounts said rape, torture and murder in intimate detail – I just don’t buy it, literally or figuratively.


bookwitch said...

I think we have all moved on from the charming corpse in the library/vicarage, and we've learnt that crime novels work even with no dead bodies at all. It's the topic of crime that we like (that didn't sound as good as I intended), and a corpse-free book is as good as any other.

In fact, I generally say that children's books are better than adult books, because you still have to write well, but without quite as much sex or violence that you can prop up the adult book with. So, your low violence level in a crime novel is quite similar. You have to write a better novel to make up for the low body count. And you do.

Dana King said...

As many characters should die as the story needs. No fewer, and certainly no more. Killing a character just because the author is tired of him, or thinks the audience would prefer him dead, is not only a cheap way out, and is probably the kind of thing people mean when they talk about being de-sensitized to violence.