Whistling in the Dark

A gruesome still from TV show Bones
Bones: anyone want to grab some lunch?
Years ago, before I had children, I worked for a large bookstore chain. I read everything that looked even slightly interesting, and I developed a love for crime stories. I carried that appreciation into my movie and television viewing. Mysteries are great, right? They puzzle your brain, and if the solution can be found in less than sixty minutes (or less than two hours for films), then it’s satisfying. No staying up until 6am in order to barrel through a novel. Just one hour with commercials and done.

I always watched Law & Order SVU in reruns and enjoyed it immensely. My husband and I would watch Bones while eating dinner, and I never had a problem with the gore, unless stomach contents were involved.

When our daughter was born, I noticed I’d turn on an episode of SVU when I wasn’t sleeping, for instance, if my daughter was being rocked and fed overnight, but I’d end up switching it off to find something mundane to watch. If there was a child-victim, I couldn’t get to the remote quickly enough. Infomercials starring Billy Mays became my new companion. I didn’t want to think. I especially didn’t want to think about the Things That Might Happen out there in the world.

As she got older, I acquired the habit of leaving the television on during the day for background noise while I puttered around. She actually seemed to find David Caruso’s voice soothing, so CSI: Miami was in heavy rotation.

The Nightstalker
The Nightstalker: stalking repressed childhood memories
Then, one day when she was about two years old, I saw her noticing the TV screen where a body was featured. I saw her get upset, and I shut it off. I’d been there as a small child myself.  My parents watched a lot of police dramas when I was tiny, but what sticks in my mind most is The Nightstalker. Remember Darren McGavin as Kolchak? My parents let me watch that series, even though almost every episode gave me nightmares.

Seeing my daughter react to the images on TV led me to shut off crime shows during the day until, even after her bedtime at night, I couldn’t tolerate them anymore. A few episodes of Criminal Minds here and there, combined with a smattering of any of the TruTV offerings, would freak my bean for several nights. But it never hit me until I tried to go to sleep.

Once our second child got a bit older, I found the time to read again.  I assumed that the written word would hit me the same way as television, so I avoided reading crime even though I’d always enjoyed it.   I figured my imagination would create disturbing images that would never leave, and I resigned myself to reading parenting books and comic fiction.

Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs
Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs
But I missed the crime. I missed the puzzles. And, I discovered that I’d been mistaken to worry. (Somewhat.) When I finally read my first thriller after the hiatus, Kathy Reichs’ Break No Bones, I had no insomnia. Reading crime didn’t warp my brain the way visual imagery had over the last few years. There’s something lyrical about the written word, even when it’s as graphic as all get-out.

However, I’ve also discovered I want my crime fiction to contain some humor these days. Dialogue helps. Great characters especially help.  I can’t handle macabre stories that don’t have even one chuckle.  A good friend recently introduced me to cozy mysteries, and I have to say that some are hysterical. I need that. We have our Carl Hiaasens and Lisa Scottolines in the rest of the genre, but I’d love to see even more humor out there.

As for television, I currently prefer the absurd. Supernatural and Human Target are my two favorite shows, because I know I’ll get a belly laugh out of each of them at least once per episode. Both are ridiculous and fun despite the grim subject matter. 

The world is horrifying enough, and in ways I can’t ignore. But as a crime fan, right now I can choose to laugh in the face of it all. And I’m okay with that.

Julie Summerell@jasummerell


  1. Katrina Niidas Holm

    I’m right there with you! I can’t do the dark stuff like I used to, be it books, TV, or movies. A little humor makes the scary go down. I think that’s why Castle is one of my favorite crime dramas out there, and why I tend to prefer a humorous, well-written cozy to the latest airport thriller. Too much nasty in real life — my brain needs a vacation every now and then.

  2. Fiona Johnson

    That’s exactly how I felt too. I remember just shortly after my first child was born my husband was watching Reservoir Dogs – imagine! I got so frantic because of the violence and the language and he just couldn’t understand because it was a baby…. for goodness sake.!!!

    Anything to do with child abuse or abduction – out.
    Medical drama about emergencies during pregnancy – out
    Anything nasty – out

    Thankfully I’m cured now – must have been the hormones…

  3. Julie Summerell

    I avoided Castle due to the Fillion Curse. Now that it has some seasons in we’ll be catching up.

    I opened the local news website today and yes, there is way too much nasty.

  4. Julie Summerell


    I laughed out loud over, “the cure.” If I ever get less spastic my husband will have me investigated.

  5. Katrina Niidas Holm

    Castle is FANTASTIC. I’ll watch anything Fillion is in. Don’t care if it gets canceled after just one episode – that one episode is bound to be full of awesome.

  6. Elizabeth A White

    I have always and still prefer my crime fiction dark and relatively nasty.
    I do enjoy some ironic, sarcastic humor being included, but have never really taken to the full-on cozy format. Great post though. 🙂

  7. Julie Summerell

    We watched Drive. We liked Drive. FOX canceled Drive.

    Why does FOX hate Nathan?

    And why does my husband hate when I call him, “Captain Sweatpants?”

    Thanks, Beth. I’m slowly getting back to the grit, slowly.

  8. bungluna

    I too like my dark levened with humor. I loved Human Target, but it got canceled. I no longer invest in FOX shows; they get moved around so much it’s a full-time job to track them, only to have them canceled willy-nilly.

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