Does Brexit Belong In Murder Mysteries?
‘Don’t get too political,’ is a classic writing rule.
Readers are also voters of every hue, and you risk offending them. But if you’re going to write a crime novel set in modern-day Britain, you have to at least touch on ordinary life around you to set the story in context. If you overdo it, you’ll have too much political content and will turn readers off.
If you’re writing a satire or an overtly political novel that’s fine; the modern master is Jonathan Coe, who from ‘What A Carve Up!’ to ‘Middle England’ writes gracefully and hilariously about the state of the nation. Film directors Ken Loach and Mike Leigh have made extremely political films with great success. But for a crime novel it’s the kiss of death.
But every writer puts something of themselves in a book, even inadvertently, and I managed to get hate mail from a particularly rabid US Republican who accused me of ‘pushing a liberal agenda’, so I’ve always been wary of touching on broad-picture politics. However, you can mention specific issues if they’re germane to the plot. Part of the reason why I wrote ‘Wild Chamber’ is that I was furious with council plans to stealth-privatise public parks.
Which leaves me here, at the start of writing next year’s Bryant & May novel, with the country torn in half by Brexit and this ludicrous bucket-mouthed racist likely to sweep the polls by stepping into a political vacuum. Edmund Burke’s quote, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing’, has never been more true.
I showed this quote to a Romanian friend living here (who incidentally speaks more languages and is infinitely more intelligent than Farage) and he nodded wearily, saying, ‘This is what we get all the time now that he’s legitimised public hatred’.
I’m writing a murder mystery, not working as a political analyst, but when you feel the change all around you on a daily basis along with other growing chasms between rich and poor, and young and old, it starts to feel odd if you avoid all mention of it in your prose. The solution, I suspect, is to catch the tension and keep it in the deep background only. It’s not my job to tell readers what to think.
The Swedish author Per Wahloo tackled societal change head on his his much-lauded crime novels. Wahloo’s two books featuring Chief Inspector Jenson are intellectually intriguing, but politics drowns the suspense. Jensen lives in a soulless futuristic dystopia where his (and there author’s) worst fears have come to pass. Drunkenness has been criminalized, city centres have been destroyed by highways and the population is kept sedated with junk-entertainment.
Perhaps one day I’ll write a second mystery series that’s tougher, but PG Wodehouse proved you can be a good writer without involving real life at all. Finding the balance is the key, and I’d rather have my detectives arguing about modern life in abstract ways rather than making them mouthpieces for current views.
But oh, for a chance to parody Farage, who is himself a pantomime villain, having failed seven times to become a Member of Parliament, once being beaten by a dolphin – if I made him up readers would accuse me of going over the top!