In crime writers’ realm, the go-to trick mostly used is to stay true to what ‘they’ (the writers) know, and not what they fear they’ve become. That said, the central characters need not necessarily be the alter egos of their creators.
What, then, is the essence of crime fiction? This was a question that popped up repeatedly at the first two-day Crime Writers Festival in India that opened at Delhi’s Habitat Centre on January 17.
Zac O' Yeah, the author of Mr. Majestic, claims it is the "human element" of it.
"It isn't about getting the statistical hi-tech data together to solve a murder. It is about the human values involved in nabbing the culprit," he adds.
Another recurring thought was whether violence in books normalise it in reality? Discussed at length, the conclusive idea was that the novels reflect the society and vice-versa.
Lady Kishwar Desai, winner of Costa First Novel Award in 2010, said she'd be better off without the graphic details of a crime. "When violence titillates, it becomes entertainment," she concurred.
Dipankar Gupta, professor at Shiv Nadar University, said that violence is a way to compensate for the lack of plot in novels. "It's like painting an old door with bright colours" to hide its ugliness, he said.
"You read, write, dream about violence and criminal activities, how have you not become a criminal yourself?" was a question tossed at Surender Mohan Pathak, one of the best-selling Hindi fiction crime writers with nearly 300 books to his credit. The trade-off for writing all these books, he confessed, was to become more pessimistic in life, but never become a criminal.
Interestingly, even the audience found it hard to accept human pathos without superimposing morality on the authors. Zulu's author Carel Ferey, when asked how he reconciled the violence in his writing with his personal life, said: "I go back home to my friends, and open a bottle of wine… Sometimes, the count goes up to two to three!"
Humour, many authors averred, was a great tool that could break the dark life inside a crime novel. Tarquin Hall, a British journalist and the creator of Vish Puri, a pakora-loving Punjabi detective, said it's an essential feature that helps readers empathise with the characters.
"It is a feature which is hard to identify with crime novels, but very essential nonetheless. It is not necessary for a crime novel to be serious," he said, adding that that humour comes naturally to him in his writing.
An initiative of the Crime Writer's Forum of South Asia, the festival, presented by Hindustan Times and produced by Siyahi, a literary consultancy, will include discussions, book readings, writers' workshops, a musical session presented by NH7 and a crime fiction quiz hosted by Quizcraft Global.