Monday, January 8, 2018

Social Conscience and the Written Word

Some years ago I wrote an article that was published by GUMSHOE REVIEW. It was entitled “Social Conscience in Modern Mystery Fiction” and remains in the archives. At the time I observed: “Many of today's mystery and crime fiction authors display significant elements of social conscience and/or awareness in their writing.”

I would now like to amend and expand my statement to observe that earlier mystery writers, particularly those who wrote noir, also demonstrated social conscience. To demonstrate this point, I recently read a review of a newly discovered Raymond Chandler story written not long before his death. The story, “It’s All Right: He Only Died,” appears in THE STRAND MAGAZINE’s holiday edition. In true Chandler style, the story is in the hard-boiled tradition. It condemns a doctor at a hospital who doesn’t want to care for a patient he believes to be indigent.

Writing stories that make a significant point is a worthy effort. Mystery writers often act as a moral conscience to society—as do writers in general.

My last work, THE BURNING, is not a mystery, more of a thriller, but it is meaningful. It’s about a family surviving an environmental disaster. It deals with matters that need to concern everyone living on our planet.

Have you read or written any stories or novels that you consider socially relevant? Your thoughts and comments welcome.


  1. Jacquie, your recent novel should open people's eyes to what the coal industry has done to the landscape and small towns in coal country, damage that is long-lasting and perhaps permanent. You make important points without doing anything more than telling a story. This is something writers of crime fiction excel at. Good post.

    1. Thank you, Susan. I appreciate that you read The Burning and found it meaningful.

  2. May writers––even those who write fiction––reflect on social mores? My JINGO STREET comments on foster care, incarceration, the death penalty, and other controversial actions for which we all are responsible, if only indirectly. My work in progress includes a sweet homosexual pedophile. It has offended several in my critique group. This character is incidental to the main story. I don't want to be censored, but wonder if readers.too, will boycott the book for characters who show human frailties? Must we not mention such behavior? It's a conundrum.

  3. Hi Sharon,

    You bring up an important question. I had a similar problem with my 4th Kim Reynolds mystery THE BAD WIFE. It dealt with some serious social issues rather than being a mere cozy and drew some criticism for it.

  4. Wow, interesting to know Jacqueline.
    Thanks for sharing
    Good luck and God's blessings

  5. Hi Pam,

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

  6. So true, Jacqueline. In my first Patrick MacKenna architectural mystery, Crimes of Design, the vulnerability of infrastructure both to sabotage and to financial mischief by its creators, who usually are shadow figures unknown to the public, is a strong theme. In the second, Fatal Designs, the proximity of predators in our cities and the susceptibility of our youth to insidious drug use, as well as the omnipresence of PTSD victims in society, are themes. While we writers can't get preachy, our characters' experiences can illustrate these dangers in graphic relief, as you descibe in Grisham's work.

    Carry on! Peter.

  7. Peter,

    I agree it's important to avoid becoming preachy even when we are dealing with serious significant issues. Messages need to be subtle.

  8. Jacqueline, I think it's fine for writers to comment on one thing and another in their stories as long as they don't become didactic. Our first goal is to entertain and if we have something to say in the context of that fine. But you know the old saying about a spoonful of sugar.

  9. Paul,

    You're so right! Of course, we don't want to sermonize. It's not in our job description.