ACW

ACW

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Justice is Served


Earlier this month I had the honour of being at an awards dinner with the crème de la crème of British crime and mystery writers. My debut crime novel, The Jazz Files, had been nominated for the Crime Writers’ Association Endeavour Historical Dagger – awarded for the best historical crime or mystery novel published in the United Kingdom in 2015-16.

I was supported by friends and colleagues from my publisher Lion Hudson. We had a fabulous evening, dressed up to the nines and served a top-notch meal, before the business of the night got underway.

Me (left) and my editor Jessica Tinker at the awards.
The main speaker of the evening was James Runcie, the author of the Grantchester Mysteries, about a vicar who is an amateur sleuth. It is now a TV series. James pointed out that as a genre crime offers an opportunity to morally examine humanity - at their best and worst. Religion, as we know, also deals with the stuff of moral transgression and the resultant need for the world to be put to rights. My publisher, Andrew Hodder-Williams, suggested that perhaps that was why the crime genre was such a good fit for Lion Fiction, an imprint of the Christian publishing house, Lion Hudson.

Since the days of GK Chesterton and Father Brown, clerical mysteries have been a thriving sub-genre of the crime scene. From a Christian writer’s perspective, the character’s job gives the author an excuse to bring a bit of faith into the stories. However, it also offers plot opportunities as the clergy encounter the best and worst of humanity on a daily basis, and are often privy to people’s secrets, sins and lies.

Runcie commented: “I hope to have written a loving portrayal of a man who moves between the world of the spirit and the all too mortal world of the flesh, bicycling from Grantchester to Cambridge and back, attempting to love the unloveable, forgive the sinner, and to lead a decent, good life.”

The Christian imperative, encapsulated so beautifully here by Runcie, is not just the preserve of the professional clergy. So what about books where the main character is just an ‘ordinary’ Christian? That is a harder ‘sell’ to publishers and the secular book-buying public. In modern literature, as in modern life as a whole, people of faith are generally viewed with suspicion.  Lion Fiction is trying to change that. Elizabeth Flynn’s DI Costello for instance is a police officer who happens to be a Christian. In Paul Trembling’s debut Local Poet, the main character is not a Christian but he encounters people who are, and who positively model Christian compassion and forgiveness. But there is not a ‘professional’ Christian in sight.

In my novels in the Poppy Denby Investigates series the protagonist, an investigative journalist, is the daughter of Methodist ministers – so that I suppose could be considered an ‘excuse’ – however, she grapples with the faith in which she was raised. Hence, she is someone outside of the traditional church establishment and perhaps, because of it, is more relatable to non-Christian readers.

What all of the books above have in common is that they deal with issues of justice and the notion that the world cannot be set to rights while injustice goes unchecked. And, unlike crime novels without a spiritual dimension, there is a sense that God is the ultimate arbiter of that justice. Like Nathan exposing David’s murder of Bathsheba’s husband in the Bible, the heroes of our books have a strong sense of what is right and wrong and that justice needs to be served. We need to be aware though that not all our readers share our faith and a heavy-handed ‘preach’ that God is the ultimate judge would not be appropriate.

Oh, before I forget, I should probably tell you that The Jazz Files did not win. It was pipped at the post by a wonderful crime thriller by David Young set in 1975, East Berlin, called Stasi Child. Was justice served? I’ll leave that for you to decide ;)

Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and writing lecturer, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She writes across all media, for children and adults. Her mystery novel The Jazz Files, the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series (Lion Fiction) was nominated for a CWA Historical Dagger in 2016. The second book, The Kill Fee is out now, and the third is due out next year. Her children’s books The Young David Series and the Young Joseph Series  are published by SPCK. Her novel The Peace Garden  is self-published under Crafty Publishing.



6 comments:

  1. Thanks for the insight. I agree that crime fiction allows us to explore the moral imperative whilst retaining our moral integrity. Congratulations on being shortlisted

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  2. That was an interesting read, Fiona. I guess making sure 'the world is put to rights' is a great goal for any novel: any novel that's going to be life-affirming and do good for people, that is. That's got me thinking!

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    1. I think you're right Fran. If we see our writing as an extension of our Kingdom work then leaving the world - fictional or not - a little better than when we joined it is a great goal. And it's not just for crime writing. Does the requited love of a couple in a romance bring healing and restoration to others around them? Does a family drama bring forgiveness and reconciliation to those who choose to participate it in? Does Miss bring value and encouragement to her pupils despite her foibles and failings? These are life affirming things. It's why as a Christian I can't write nihilism. The flip side of this though is we need to be careful of not having a rose-tinted view of the world nor presenting it in our fiction. God works in and despite the mess. Some aspects will be put to right, some may still remain untouched, the degree to which we reflect that in our work is something I feel that differs from writer to writer.

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  3. Crime writing is often viewed with suspicion by Christians. This is to do, I think, with the degree of violence that is depicted - showing the crime itself and the level of violence/force that is used to combat it. There is a valid debate to be had here about the ways and means of the genre and also the issue of whether the end (the bad guy is caught/stopped) with the means (what moral compromises/failings does the hero commit to overcome the bad guy?). The same debate is played out in society - regarding law enforcement, vigilantism, the possession and use of guns, just and unjust wars etc. But this I believe should not negate crime as a legitimate expression for Christian authors and readers. That would be like saying a Christian should not write romance because porn exists. Where we draw that line as writers and readers is also a personal one and one that I and my publisher (and God!) frequently return to. In fact, because it reflects real-world debates about the nature of just and unjust violence and the how far the end justifies the means, makes it a genre Christians should engage with rather than shun. In my humble opinion ;)

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    1. My feeling on crime and Christian writers is that Fiona has it spot on - am just about to finish her second Poppy Denby, The Kill Fee. It's a crime novel, yes, but the characters are well drawn, interesting in themselves, and all distinguishable from one another. The history is well researched. Poppy's thoughts re her faith and its constraints and about God in her life are well done, they feel real and of the period. And the writer's attitudes don't intrude ... (Unlike the other book I have been reading this week ... am hoping to review both together soon.)

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  4. Very insightful about how crime writing can work in Christian hands - and about how Christian writers can give others an insight into what it is really like for us, in place of the distortions presented by some secular writers. Thank you!

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