As I followed the Trump impeachment trial this past week, I felt fury. Fury at the way Trump incited a far-right white mob (shown above) to storm the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, fury at Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen from him, and fury that the U.S. Senate did not convict him despite his undeniable guilt — caught on video and in tweets — because most Republican members of that “august” body are gutlessly terrified of, or want to cater to, Trump’s base.
The trial also made me think that crime fiction is comforting in a way. I know that sounds strange given all the mayhem and pathologies in such novels, but at least the reader can count on seeing wrongdoers punished — either through the court system or vigilante justice. Not always, of course, but usually. A contrast to real life, where wealthy, powerful, Caucasian bad guys like Trump almost never get the punishment they deserve. So, the conclusions of most crime novels are wish-fulfillment that soothes our psyches a bit.
I don’t want to give spoilers, but we all know examples of novels that leave readers with a “crime didn’t ultimately pay” message — even if the punishment is sometimes rather delayed, as in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. (Both of which are not crime, thriller, mystery, or detective fiction per se, but other kinds of fiction can of course have some of those elements.) Heck, it would be hard to sustain a successful series of crime novels if there were little or no consequences for the wrongdoing characters. It would just be too depressing for readers who get enough of that when following real-life news.
Yes, the offenders almost always eventually get their comeuppance in novels by the likes of Raymond Chandler, Lee Child, Agatha Christie, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle, Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, John Grisham, Dashiell Hammett, P.D. James, Stieg Larsson, Walter Mosley, Louise Penny, Dorothy L. Sayers, Lisa Scottoline, etc. — though often not before some good people get killed or badly hurt.
If you read crime fiction, do you find it somewhat comforting for the reason I mentioned?
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest piece — which supports my town’s teachers in their reluctance to return to in-person instruction before being vaccinated — is here.