Friday, April 1, 2011
How Real is Molly Murphy?
I was all too aware that the automobile had been invented but there were only a couple of hundred miles of paved road in the US. But what shocked me was that there were 230 recorded murders in the whole of the United States that year.
230! Why, then Molly must be the busiest and most successful detective of her time because she solves several murders each year! I find the number hard to believe--are we including gunfights in Tombstone? Gang fights in the big cities? From what I've read it wasn't unusual to find a body in an alleyway or floating in a river in New York. But perhaps they didn't count.
And think of how many murders went undetected. All those patent medicines loaded with opium, heroin, mercury, arsenic...a few too many doses and it's death from natural causes. But the number is still astounding, isn't it? There are that many deaths in Oakland, CA alone each year.
I remember as a child growing up in England that a murder anywhere made the headlines for weeks. Brutal Murder in Scotland. It was an anomaly, something that shook the fabric of a civilized society. Of course in UK nobody owned guns. The police didn't, and still don't carry guns. So murders were brutal--stranglings, stabbings, bashing over the head. But apparently not very often.
That's why our mystery books have to be taken with a grain of salt. There really aren't many murders in civilized society and most are horribly easy to solve. Man drinks too much, thinks woman has been cheating, strangles her in fit of rage. None of the clever motives or subtle clues that we put in our books. Nobody ever really puts a speckled band through the keyhole. That's why books are such fun!