I realized about three years ago I didn't actually have to listen to the news, watch the news, or read the news. No matter where I was or what I was doing, I would hear from someone about what was going on. We swim in news. We breathe news. And to paraphrase Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night, 'I had it in my nose, too.'
But was what I was busy absorbing osmotically at all accurate? I doubt it. But then, how accurate were the newscasts or the newspaper articles? Opinion had displaced most decent reporting. Budget cuts had eviscerated most of the Fourth Estate, leaving behind a hollow clamour of assumptions, conjecture, and speculation. (And yes, the odd decent reporter fighting a rear-guard action.)
It was as depressing a situation as the news itself: factionalism, nationalism, climate danger, injustice, inequity, fraud and lies on a scale never before seen. The old and gold standard of inhumane behaviour, murder, paled to comic insignificance.
So, if a murder mystery were not equal to the task of shocking the reader, what good could it be? It was a regrettable assumption that murder mysteries were only ever meant to shock the reader. Surprise the reader? Yes, of course. But shock? Sometimes only.
I decided to write murder mysteries where the death of a human being still meant something. Revealing the killer would reveal a compulsion with deep roots and long standing. In doing so, there was a chance that the reader could see how the crime, the compulsion, might have been avoided.
I am setting my books in an age that had only just crawled out of a series of wounding depredations. There was hope in those days, and we need hope again today -- if we are to ever overcome our dystopian world. Nineteen hundred years ago, the Roman poet Juvenal wrote: Difficile est satiram non scribere (it's hard NOT to write satire).
These days, it's hard not to write a dystopia.