19th Jun 2012
No Escape from the Beautiful Dead Girls
There are so many beautiful dead girls on TV. They’re everywhere, on every single crime drama: young, white, middle-class, blameless before they foolishly but innocently got caught up with the wrong person.
Usually the dead girl has been tortured or sexually assaulted. Sometimes one or more characters becomes obsessed with her – even falling in love with her. I don’t need to go into this in more detail, as sadly it’s a trope I’m sure you know well.
The thing is, I don’t want those beautiful dead girls – which I’ll call BDGs, just to keep things concise – in my books as well. This causes a problem for me: I like crime fiction, but rarely read it. I just can’t stomach any more beautiful corpses.
My favourite genre of crime is the lush, poetic, atmospheric thriller (note: I don’t know whether this is an actual genre, but I wish it was). If you have any recommendations in this genre, which I probably just made up, please let me know because I want to read them. I’ll start things rolling with my own stand-outs:
It’s years since I’ve read this, but it’s still etched so vividly in my mind. Camille Preaker escaped her Southern hometown to become a journalist, but a vicious double-murder gets her sent right back there to investigate.
Camille tries to deal with her emotionally manipulative mother and nymphet half-sister, while also covering the murders, but everything feels too close to home. The hot, dusty, claustrophobic atmosphere of small towns is evocatively drawn, and Camille – her body scarred with self-carved words – makes for a vulnerable but appealing protagonist.
One of the most absorbing novels I’ve ever read, with settings that feel so real I sometimes think I’ve really visited them. As a child, Rob Ryan went into the woods near his house with two of his friends. He came back; they didn’t.
Now grown up and a detective in Dublin’s Murder Squad, Rob still doesn’t know what happened that day – but when a young girl is killed near the same woods, he is determined to investigate. Beware: if you like plots threads to all be tied up neatly in a big bow, this isn’t for you.
This is Australian author Hooper’s debut, and it’s as erotic as it is creepy. In the former penal colony of Tasmania, Kate Byrne, a trainee teacher, embarks on an affair with an older man. The man’s wife is writing a true crime book about Ellie Siddall, murdered in the local area in 1983. Kate begins to identify with Ellie to the point where she is convinced that her lover and his wife are plotting to kill her.
The prose is dreamy, the characterisation is unflinching, and each chapter begins with an innocent-seeming chapter from a children’s novel – but these sections are the most chilling of all, exposing the darkness in childhood.
If you’ve read any of these, you may have noticed a problem: each one contains, as the victim, a BDG. With these books I am willing to overlook that for various reasons: the flawed, spiky, believable female main characters; the gorgeous prose; the mythical overtones; the way it knowingly plays on the BDG trope.
But I’m still looking for more. There must be well-written crime novels without a BDG as victim. There must, otherwise I’m swearing off the entire crime genre forever – well, after I get through Agatha Christie‘s back catalogue.
Am I just wishing for things that don’t exist? Or are there lush, poetic, atmospheric thrillers where I can get lost without fear that I’ll stumble across another mutilated girl?
Guest feature from author Kirsty Logan. Kirsty is currently working on her first novel, Rust and Stardust, and a short story collection, The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales. The issues raised in the article lead to Kirsty’s decision to write another novel, Little Dead Boys.