Access All Areas: Female Murder Victims, Sexy Autopsy Lady and the Problem with Crime Fiction

By Mossman, Kate | New Statesman (1996), February 2, 2018 | Go to article overview

Access All Areas: Female Murder Victims, Sexy Autopsy Lady and the Problem with Crime Fiction


Mossman, Kate, New Statesman (1996)


I vividly recall the Twin Peaks trailer in 1990, and the reedy voice saying, "She's dead. Wrapped in plastic!" Years later, after a life consuming cheap American crime procedurals on TV, it struck me that Lynch's 48-part psychedelic opus was driven by the same momentum as your average episode of CSI: an attractive female body on a slab. Had Laura Palmer been a middle-aged man with a tag on his toe, there would be no show. Recently, on something like Criminal Minds, I watched a male detective pull the sheet off a female murder victim. He gave her a glance, and added to his injuries report: "Pretty, too." My eyes popped. But there I was, enjoying the show with my beans on toast.

Last week, the author Bridget Lawless launched a new prize for fiction, for the best thriller "in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered". We are all familiar with the gripping, grimy plots she's talking about. Detectives in dramas investigating murdered girls are galvanised by an unacknowledged, quasi-erotic interest couched in vengeful, fatherly terms. There's the inevitable inspection of the dead girl's bedroom--drawers, diaries--like the legitimate face of the peeping Tom. And as the body count mounts, there are dead girls fixed to the notice boards in the police stations, in a grim twist on the pin-ups in mechanics' workshops. The victims turn out (see Netflix's Mindhunter) to be just a little bit wilder than their cherubic faces would suggest; a hidden no-good boyfriend, a secret tryst with an older man. She wasn't asking for it, but ...

The thing is, loads of women love these shows! Women are the biggest consumers of crime fiction--between 60 and 80 per cent. In 2009, the British crime writer Martyn Waites was encouraged to take a pseudonym, Tania Carver, to publish his book The Surrogate, in which (original idea, this) a serial killer cuts out the foetuses of pregnant women. Waites's publishers wanted female writers to appeal to their female audience. Women were the targets of the foetus chopping book. Which makes complete and utter sense to me. …

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