Strange Bedfellows: Philosophy and Crime

I am concurrently reading the following:

Shadow of Death, an historical crime fiction by Michael D. Graves

Meditations, by the Stoic philosopher and emperor Marcus Aurelius

I and Thou, by the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber.

If we were to use a culinary example, this is like a peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwich. Certainly, I am not the only person who has a varied bookshelf or “bedside stack” and can appear eclectic. What has occurred to me is the similarities these tomes have between them.

Essentially (and with no disrespect to philosophers of any sort), Marcus Aurelius and Martin Buber provide a way of looking at life and meaning, from their own perspectives, intuitions, intellects, and experiences. It is a search for the truth as much as it is a search for meaning.

To some degree, these works are not different than religious or spiritual tracts, whether we refer to the Old or New Testaments, the Koran, or the Dead Sea Scrolls. Throughout the ages, mankind has sought a deeper understanding of the nature of existence.

A good crime fiction contains a search as well. Obviously, the protagonist (often a detective of some sort) is trying to ascertain the perpetrator of the crime whether it be murder, theft, kidnapping, etc. There are many works in the genre in which the adversaries are mirror images of each other and thus play against the notion of purely Good vs. Evil. Somehow, I am a part of you and you are a part of me. (An example would be Will Graham’s ability to insinuate himself into the mind of the killer in Red Dragon.)

These are the examples when crime fiction goes deeper, beyond a simple resolution and into “the meaning of Life” especially if a murder has been committed. There are some detectives that want more than to turn the culprit over to the wheels of justice. When I read something of that sort, I am more intrigued because the work is not following the standard tropes of the hard-boiled and noir genres that I prefer.

This is all pertinent to me because I am currently working on a new historical crime fiction series that takes place in post World War II. The main character is a former Wichita police officer who enrolled right after Pearl Harbor. His father hoped he would become a rabbi; he didn’t have the desire to return to the department and became a detective. My hope is to interject the conflicts between spiritual and secular laws.

When all is said and done, I can’t help but think of Marlowe’s attitude:

“What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered with things like that.”

We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll keep reading.

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