I read a newspaper every day, scanning the headlines and picking out the stories that interest me. I shake my head at the misery people inflict on each other, and then turn the page. I couldn't do that this week.
About five years ago, an old Victorian mansion, long chopped up into apartments, was sold to a developer, who tore it down and built five McMansions. Buyers of the properties were required to sign a covenant prohibiting certain behaviors, such as parking a boat in the driveway, designed to maintain the value of the new homes.
The new houses came with side effects. For the first time neighbors had water in their cellars after it rained, the result of all that paving for the new street and driveways in the small development. A few neighbors also grumbled that even though the street was private and residents were expected to bring their trash to the sidewalk, the trash collectors still drove down the short street, our tax dollars at work. Other neighbors lost their sunny back yards, which were now cast in shadow most of the day.
This development is barely three houses away from me, just across a small one-way street. I walk past this cluster of new homes almost every day, and my husband passes it three times a day when he's out walking the dog. The houses are occupied by families with children of all ages. The lawns are well kept. And yet . . . And yet . . .
On Monday a man walked into the Beverly Police Department and announced he had just killed his wife. The police apparently, according to one news story, asked a few questions before heading out to the house. There they found his wife's body with no pulse but still warm. The EMTs managed to revive her enough to get a pulse and took her to the hospital, less than two miles away. She never regained consciousness and died on Friday. She was the mother of two young boys.
The woman had quit her job two years ago to stay home and write. She and her husband separated a year ago but had tried to reconcile in September of this year. She completed her first novel, published it with Amazon, and started her second book.
The published novel is titled The Price of Fame. On the cover is the picture of a woman lying face down, apparently after an assault, with her clothes fallen away. If I were writing this in a novel, I couldn't describe a murder and include that scene without a reader complaining, considering it contrived or worse. Again according to one news report, the police did not find signs of a struggle.
Since retiring I have kept up with some of my former colleagues and volunteer activities, including work on a committee to end domestic violence. We talk about warning signs and appropriate responses that won't make the home situation worse, or put the woman in danger.
On the quiet lane three houses from where I live, no one heard the man strangling his wife. No one knew she was in danger.
Over the years I have refused to read mysteries in which one woman after another is murdered or debased in the opening pages (or even later). I consider such fiction exploitive and repulsive. But what is the difference between one murder and thirty?
I sometimes wonder if writing crime fiction is a sign of my own callousness. I think I'm addressing issues of justice and the way life takes strange and startling turns and challenges us to face an ugly reality or our own weaknesses. Before I knew the woman down the street had died, I printed out a next-to-final draft of a new mystery novel. Here it sits on my desk, almost three hundred pages waiting for a final read-through. I am uncomfortably aware that my next reading will be different from my previous one. Beyond that I'm not sure what I think.