DISCLAIMER: There is discussion of rape of female characters
This blog entry is written in response to an article by the BBC which posited the question that several female thriller authors answered.
The article that Hazel Shearing wrote is undoubtedly one-sided when pertaining to violence in literature, particularly since she establishes her own view that women should no longer be victims. As for Samantha Harvey’s point about “The violent crimes in most books are against women,” Shearing never explains where Harvey got that information. She does not either provide evidence or disprove of that statement, which calls into question the legitimacy of such a statement.
If a work is denied of any victims, the stakes of the story’s conflict are no longer raised. So I would be in agreement with August Thomas, Julia Crouch, and Dr. Rashmi Varma. In the thrillers that I have read, a murder could provide insight into the underground world of crime, either inhabited by people avoiding the law or having no access to it. In the case of Jean-Claude Izzo’s Total Chaos, the rape and murder of a young woman immediately dives into the protagonist into the Marseilles black market headed by the Mafia and the far-right, who use Arab immigrants as go-betweens and as scapegoats.
While there are writers such as Julia Crouch who argue that female victims reflect off a social reality since 40%-70% of female homicide victims were linked to interpersonal violence, even that type of logic can be limiting since it has the possibility of avoiding the social reality that men must face, particularly since men consist of the majority of homicide victims overall.
Although the writers who answered whether they should not include female victims in their stories provided differing views, none of them (with the exception of Samantha Harvey whose own novel consists of a male victim driving the plot) considered stories where male victims are the prime motivations for the conflict which happens a lot in literature. In the case of William Shakespeare’s corpus of plays, while there are conflict motivations by female victims in plays such as The Rape of Lucrece; there are also plays like Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, and other plays where the characters are motivated by male victims of murder or general harm. Even in the gratuitous rape of Lavinia in Titus Andronicus, the major motivator of the conflict is the death of Titus’ and Tamora’s sons in their war.
Even though Shakespeare’s plays are not considered thrillers, they do deal with drama and conflict within the familial and the political spheres. While thriller plots should not always have a murder victim, there does need to be an incident that drives forward the plot. They can be any gender, so long as they establish the conflict of the story.