Essential Hardboiled Reading for Cozy Mystery Authors (And Readers)

I finally got around to starting Stephen King's new novella collection, "Full Dark, No Stars," and was taken with the second tale, "Big Driver."


In it, an author of cozy mystery novels is waylaid, beaten, raped and left for dead. She survives ... to carry out a plan for bloody justice and revenge that would shock the fictional little old ladies of her creation, the "Willow Grove Knitting Society."


I haven't liked much of King's work in the last 15 years or so, but this is an absolute ripper of a yarn. Great idea, great execution, great female heroine.

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I have never read a Stephen King book and never intend to do so.  Watching one grotesque and horrifying film that was an adoption of one of his books was enough for me.  Why let one's mind be infected by a very sick person?

What is the purpose of horror fiction? Is it entirely frivolous? Or worse? I don't think so.


Try, if you dare, Misery. It's a classic work of suspense fiction with great characterization.

There can be no reasonable purpose to horror fiction.  If you find or have found such a purpose, I would be attentive were you to let it be known.

I rarely read horroe, but I suspect those who do read it for the same reasons I read crime. If a person believes in the supernatural, then a look into what might lurk there, knowing the reader is safe, can be highly entertaining, just as I like to read stories of crime--violent or otherwise--safe in the knowledge that, however this one comes out, I'll be fine. The only difference between us is that I can prove a world exists very much like the one in the story; those who are supernatural horror fans have to take it on faith.


That's where King excels. He is able to find the horror in what are relatively ordinary events, and he's a hell of a story teller. I thought CUJO would be a stupid book, but I got suckered into reading it and couldn't put it down. His book ON WRITING should be rad by all writers. If I cared much for the horror genre, I'd read King. The fact I don't has more to do with liking my menace to be in this world than anything else.


I find cozies far more objectionable than horror. The sanitzed death and violence does an injustice to the suffering it depicts. As Chandler once said, those murders took place primarily to provide a body. Crime should be organic to the story, not something that ahppens so we can have fun with its solution.


And don't get me started on those who'll read grisly violence and become offended at coarse language.

The fact I don't has more to do with liking my menace to be in this world than anything else.

The menace is always in this world! :) The events in horror fiction (or at least the best horror fiction)  are metaphors for all that we fear---what lies buried within the psyche, and not only the indivdual psyche but the psyche of the culture. In "The Shining,"  the father (already a selfish, callow person) is metamorphosed into a raving maniac--the" supernatural" beings at the hotel  functioned as an agent to release his inner demons.


I'd agree with this. Don't recall who said it, but horror is often a form of social satire, or perhaps mirror opposite of social satire. There's a lot of symbolism in the best of it. The horror classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, for example, is said to be an allegory for McCarthyism--or Communism, depending upon your political bent. :)


Stephen King has some things to say about the purpose of horror in his non-fiction book on horror, The Danse Macabre.

And I would also recommend Delores Claiborn, made into a movie in 1994. I think labeling King a horror writer is a mistake. Delores Claiborn has a very dark theme, true, but it's not what I would call horror. Well, not unless you call incest horror.

hello, Barbara.  I hope you don't mind me sharing my thoughts here, but I don’t know if you’re being completely fair to the horror genre.  I don’t consider myself to be a fan of violence, so I share many of your sentiments.  I do have to come to the defense of Stephen King.  Good Horror writing functions much the same way as good mystery writing does, and King is brilliant at incorporating all the subtext the genre requires so that the reading experience is intensified.  In fact, he’s remarkable at it.  When I talk in writing circles about the nature of suspenseful writing, which good horror writing is, most writers agree that the events leading up to actual assault are far more important then the assault.  It’s the time between the narrative question and its answer that horror readers and writers are interested in.  You know.  The whole, “Will pat be attacked by the man at the end of the hall” thing.  

So in this case I don’t think the horror genre is anymore frivolous than roller coasters.  The people who frequent both are trill seekers.  This may sound simplistic, so shoot me already. :p I don’t think for one moment that King stays up all night fantasizing about the specifics of a dull knife sawing through the tendons of a screaming victim.  He is more interested in crafting the exchange between sensory language and the internal monologue that lead up to the sawing.  And for pacing purposes, he at times won’t even include the assault and often minimizes it.  King is interested in being a craftsman of language and not a violent pornographer.  And this is the case for many horror writers.

King in an interview years ago was asked if he tortured animals as a kid.  I’m just paraphrasing here, but he said, “No, I never did.  I never pulled off the wings of flys when I was kid because I was afraid that if I did that I would be in the bathroom one day, and the shower curtain would swish open, and a giant fly would be standing there and say ‘I’m here to avenge my brothers and sisters,’ and the fly would than tare my arms from the sockets.  It’s not the kids that can entertain themselves with their imaginations that you have to worry about it’s the kids that can’t.”  Amen to that Stephan.  Amen to that.  The sick person is the one that doens't have the patience or intellect to read at all.  He is to busy pulling the wings off of flys for entertainment enstead of reading. So, lets give some credit to the reading public and the ones that have a taste for horror genre.  It may not be our taste, but just the same, their reading. CJ       

Each to his own.   There are many writers "more interested in crafting the exchange between sensory language and the internal monologue that lead up to" XY and Z without having to sawing some body parts.  I'll stay away from King forever and ever . . . and find authors whose work thrills me in nonhorrific ways.

Point well taken. :)

King can go either way. Remember, he wrote both THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and THE GREEN MILE. No one would think of them as horror stories.



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