Val McDermid, Thomas Harris and now Mo Hayder are probably the three genuinely creepiest slice-and-dice merchants in my extensive crime library. Patricia Cornwell thinks up some fairly disgusting scenarios but she is simply not as good a writer, or as intelligent, or as able to move far beyond her own image of herself being-a-writer, as any of those three.
But I'm currently reading, for work, a slice-and-dice called Blood Brother or Brothers by someone I'd not heard of before (you can tell can't you, that I don't have the book to hand and don't want to get up from this nice warm chair to go get it). And I was telling D and M over our regular Saturday coffee yesterday that this one is a little bit too icky even for me. The crazed serial killer's modus slaughterendi is very heavily gender-inflected (= wimmin'-hatin') and not in any kind of a nice way.
I've never actually worried before about my interest in icky crime -- I like books and TV shows about messy heads, not boring boys' games of spying and corruption and so on, which is why some Ian Rankins have appealed and others have not. Messy heads, profilers, pathologists. It's something to do with the power of narrative, the strong chain of cause and effect hauling the reader along, and the pleasures of problem-solving. The thing I particularly love about crime fiction is that the plot itself describes what is essentially an act of reading: of interpreting the state of the dead body, working backwards, or perhaps I mean outwards, from the state of the body to solve the crime.
But I was saying to D and M that I have started to worry a bit, for the first time, about the pleasure I take in these stories. I'd always resisted the idea that it's a bit sick to like violent crime fiction but my resistance is beginning to break down.
Coincidentally, Hannibal was on the teeve last night and I was watching it with the morning's conversation in mind. I'd forgotten just how unutterably and yet irresistibly unpleasant Hannibal really is. The novel (the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs) is a complicated story involving a number of subplots, each more awful than the last and all of them featuring Hannibal Lecter rearranging other people's bodies for them. The novel was rather cleverly simplified for the screen, with some subplots left out entirely and whole scenes reduced to highly effective vignettes and replaced in a different part of the story, as with the kid on the plane hopping into Hannibal's Dean and DeLuca boxed gourmet lunch. (One of the reasons I love Harris is because he can be very funny; the original scene in the book is hilarious in a disgusting sort of way, though in the book the food is from Fauchon's in Paris. This is of course partly because in the book he's on a flight going in the other direction.)
I thought it was a better movie than a lot of other people did, though not a patch on The Silence of the Lambs, but it kept reminding me of the pleasure I took in reading the truly gruesome novel, and I'm wondering what other crime-fiction-loving readers think about this. Am I allowed to like crime fiction, or do I need to feel bad about it?