‘Death is overrated’ as the saying goes; as such, I thought it might be interesting to do a top five best novels which, although displaying typical Crime Fiction tropes and featuring detectives and crimes, actually contain no murders (although deaths caused by natural causes or accident are allowed).
This makes for the purest form of detective fiction, as the protagonist seeks to uncover the crime without the spectre of death looming over them. It’s also good for anyone who is over the gore and gruesomeness of some of today’s films and books and just fancies a return to some old fashioned suspense and detective work. Here are my top five choices
5. The Adventure of Silver Blaze: A fascinating specimen, as Conan Doyle, ever eager to perplex his readers, shares the tale of a murder that was not a murder. Instead, a renowned horse trainer was killed by his own animal as he tried to commit a crime; maiming the horse (the titular ‘Silver Blaze’). Offering a unique paradox where the victim and the criminal are one and the same, this is a really innovative story with a great plot that will keep you hooked whilst at the same time not grossing you out too much.
4. The Flying Stars: Despite having read a great many of them, I never quite got into G.K Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries; whilst I found the majority to be incredibly dull, they are mercifully short and easy to read quickly (hence my vast and rapid consumption of them in the hopes of understanding the hype) and, predominantly, devoid of murder. The Flying Stars is among the more interesting, as Brown stays at the country house of a gentleman and uncovers the ingenious theft of a trio of glorious diamonds, known as ‘the flying stars’ on account of their tendency to get stolen. Plodding but slightly less baffling than many of the others, making it well worth a read.
3. Gaudy Night: A novel set right at the crux of the point where Dorothy L Sayers started to create novels that combined human drama and romance with detection and crime, Gaudy Night contains no actual murder. There is crime aplenty with malicious letters, assault and intimidation, but no murder, and even the death that forms the motive for these vicious crimes is a suicide committed both geographically and temporally distant from the novel’s events. A great example of how to write Crime Fiction without actually killing your characters.
2. The Purloined Letter: Among just three short stories featuring Edgar Allan Poe’s excellent detective Dupin, this excellent tale sees the protagonist deducing the theft of a letter used in the blackmail of a lady. This is a great example of how to exact tension and suspense from a narrative without actually killing any of the characters involved.
1. Dead Man’s Chest: The TV adaptation of Kerry Greenwood’s excellent novel incorporates murders in order to ramp up the tension and capture the audience’s attention, but in the book no one gets murdered (except, possibly, a nosey old neighbour, although this is never actually proved). The main crimes include theft and blackmail, as well as a couple of vigilante hair choppers. A real cosy Golden Age esq read, this is perfect for those seeking a soothing Crime Fiction novel with all the wit, verve and vigour of any other, minus the murders.