How Bloody Is Your Mystery? How Much Violence is Too Much
By Lauren Carr
Is your book suitable for twelve year old?
A few years ago, I had written a play, which was performed at a local dinner theater. Of course, my books were on sale at the theater, and I was thrilled to be asked to sign copies for members of the audience.
At one point, a woman asked me to sign It’s Murder, My Son for her granddaughter. “Is it suitable for a twelve year old?”
“Why of course,” I replied without hesitation and signed away.
Moments later, a friend who had been standing nearby chewed me out. My books, she asserted, are not suitable for twelve year olds. They include murder in them.
Gee, I thought, the grandmother had to already know the book had a murder in it. First Clue: It’s Murder, My Son
I’m not the person to ask if a murder mystery is suitable for a twelve-year-old. My mother read Perry Mason to me at bedtime before I was even old enough to read. I was reading Earl Stanley Gardner and Agatha Christie by the time I was ten years old.
When asked about if my books are suitable for twelve-year-olds, I scan the contents in my mind:
ü Sex? Yes, there is premarital sex, but it all happens behind closed doors. What happens behind the closed door is left up to the reader’s imagination.
ü Violence: Yes, people are killed. They are murder mysteries. But I don’t have body parts and blood flying all over the place.
ü Swearing: Not unless it is suitable to that particular character. None of my main characters use foul language.
I have determined that my books are clean, and several reviewers have done so as well.
Selecting a murder mystery for a twelve year old is a difficult task.
First, we need to look at the twelve year old in question. How sophisticated is this pre-teenager? The daughter of the friend who chastised me out has a very sheltered life. However, I know other twelve year olds who have read all of the Fifty Shades of Grey books. Does the child in question watch CSI on television, or is she still into The Big Red Dog on PBS? That’s something the author at a book event can’t answer.
A parent can’t simply go by the genre tag of “Mystery.” Beneath the genre of mystery, there is a whole breakdown of sub-genres, too many for me to post here. So, whether it be for a pre-teenager or yourself if you are squeamish about gore and violence— when looking for a mystery you need to look closely at the book and the sub-genre it falls under.
When considering what type of murder mystery is suitable for a pre-teenager, I suggest looking at the book’s focus.
Is the plotline focused on the murder or the mystery of solving the murder?
I have found that some mystery sub-genres focus on the puzzle of solving the murder. Authors of these books seek to challenge their readers to solve the murder before the killer is revealed. Not only does the protagonist need to solve the puzzle to catch the killer, but they are also challenged in catching the killer in such a way that the evidence will stand up court and the killer doesn’t walk away.
Cozies are almost always a safe bet. The general rule for a cozy mystery: Amateur Investigator and murder happens off-stage. Among the cozies, you can find further sub-categories, which have become sub-genres of their own: bumbling detective, furry detective (I guess Gnarly can be called a furry detective), culinary detective, and hobby mysteries. If the twelve-year-old has a particular hobby, most likely you can find a cozy mystery in that area. There are tons of other murder mysteries under this subgenre.
Other mystery sub-genres focus on the murder itself. In an effort to thrill their readers, authors will push the envelope with graphic murders, which will happen “on-stage”. They will contain scenes of torture or rape. Many times, these mysteries will also contain graphic sex, which may also happen “on-stage” and foul language. Like amusement parks constantly coming out with the next biggest baddest roller coaster to outdo their last one, authors of these types of mysteries are challenged with each book to make it more suspenseful and sensational than the last one. Generally, many mysteries that fit into this category will be stalker, serial killer books, and police procedurals. These graphic murder mysteries will be bloody and violent—not suitable for twelve year olds, in my opinion.
Notice, I said generally.
The wave of authors publishing independently of commercial publishers has freed mystery writers from writing inside a box forcing them to stick to the rules of genres and sub-genres. For example, I have had reviewers refer to my books as “gritty cozies”. Because some murders do happen on-stage, they are grittier. However, I make an effort to make these murders quick and “polite”.
How do you pick a mystery for a twelve-year old?
ü Think about the child in question. Find out what he or she is reading now. If she’s reading Fifty Shades of Grey, then anything goes and you have nothing to worry about (literature-wise, that is).
ü Take a look at the book you are considering. Read the book description and study the cover. These are both good indicators for the tone for the book. Does it have a fluffy dog on the cover? Or does it have a comical tone? If so, it’s probably a cozy, which is safe.
ü Visit the author’s website. Websites tell a lot about the author and their books. That’s their purpose. Often, you can download sample chapters from the author’s website for free. There is no better way to know if the book is suitable than to read part of it yourself.
I guess this also begs another question, which the friend who chewed me out was actually suggesting: Are murder mysteries suitable for twelve year olds? Well, the only way I can answer that is by pointing out that I was readying murder mysteries when I was twelve and I turned out okay. … I think. … Depends on who you ask.
It’s election time in Spencer, Maryland, and the race for mayor is not a pretty one. In recent years, the small resort town has become divided between the local year-round residents who have enjoyed their rural way of life and the city dwellers moving into their mansions, taking over the town council, and proceeding to turn Deep Creek Lake into a closed gate community—complete with a host of regulations for everything from speed limits to clothes lines.
When the political parties force-feed two unsavory mayoral nominees on the town residents, Police Chief David O’Callaghan decides to make a statement—by nominating Gnarly, Mac Faraday’s German shepherd, to run as mayor of Spencer!
What starts out as a joke turns into a disaster when overnight Gnarly becomes the front runner—at which point his political enemies take a page straight out of Politics 101. What do you do when you’re behind in a race? Dig up dirt on the front runner, of course.
Seemingly, someone is not content to rest with simply embarrassing the front runner by publicizing his dishonorable discharge from the United States Army, but to throw in a murder for good measure. With murder on the ballot, Mac Faraday and the gang—including old friends from past cases—dive in to clear Gnarly’s name, catch a killer, and save Spencer!
Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries. The twelfth installment in the Mac Faraday Mystery series, Candidate for Murder will be released June 2016.
Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, son, and four dogs (including the real Gnarly) on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.
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