In her series on themes in contemporary culture, Rachel Helen Smith examines the increasing popularity of crime fiction in all its guises – and asks why it fascinates us so much.
London at night. The illuminated adverts of Piccadilly Circus beam their messages proudly into the darkness. The traffic lights turn green and cars glide around the corner. Buses stop and start, feet pound the pavement. Big Ben, the London Eye, the Gherkin. Then a gun, a face, a scribbled note, some markings on the road. A drop of acid falls from a pipette into a pool of blood, fizzing until it reveals the tiny microbes inside. And in bold white font: "Based on the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle". It's Sherlock.
The detective Sherlock Holmes was created in the late nineteenth century, but he is still immensely popular today. For one thing, he holds the record for being 'the most portrayed movie character', having appeared in over 200 big screen adaptations. And since 2009, Doyle's supersleuth has inspired a BBC TV series in the UK, a CBS adaptation in the US, two major Hollywood films and a new book by Anthony Horowitz.
This renewed fascination with the master of reasoning is just one example of what some have called a 'second golden age' for crime fiction. Whether traditional detective tales, police procedurals, hard-boiled American thrillers or British 'cosies', nothing entertains modern Brits more than the story of a murder. Since the millennium we've waved goodbye to some of our favourite fictional detectives, resurrected several more, and created a cast of new characters to help us explore the issues of life, death and crime.
nothing entertains modern Brits more than the story of a murder
Murder mysteries were popular in the bookstores as well as on the screen. One of the bestselling books of all time was released in 2003, with a subsequent 2006 film version. What The Da Vinci Code lacked in historical accuracy and stylish prose, it made up for in exciting twists and turns, compelling riddles and codes, fast-paced action scenes and scandalous secrets. The plot was packed with intrigue and mystery from the opening pages. Robert Langdon, a symbologist and Harvard Professor, and Sophie Neveu, a police cryptographer, are trying to solve the murder of Sophie's grandfather. They soon find themselves entangled in the mystery of the Holy Grail and "the greatest cover-up in human history": that Jesus Christ fathered the children of Mary Magdalene.
It was a far cry from the traditional, cosy British shows that presented violent murders taking place in the picturesque countryside villages. However, Midsomer Murders, Miss Marple and Heartbeat continued to be popular, whilst the magician and supersleuth Jonathan Creek revealed the dastardly methods of local murderers with adorable comic aplomb. On the big screen, the 2001 film Gosford Park became a box-office success by offering a Agatha Christiesque manor house murder mystery. On the stage, Christie's own Mousetrap celebrated its 25,000th performance in its 60th year, 2012. Most popular of all was Poirot; a series of ITV adaptations that began in 1989 drew over 5 million viewers for its final episode in 2013.
Other eponymous male detectives competed for viewers: Rebus, Morse, Lewis, Luther, Taggart, Dexter, House, A Touch of Frost and now Sherlock. Alongside these amateurs came a range of professional sleuths, surrounded by warning tape and the blast of sirens. Police procedurals became hugely popular after the success of CSI, in which physical evidence was the key to solving the crime. Silent Witness concentrated on the post mortem process, Bones on human remains, Law and Order on sexually-based offences. Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes took a quirkier look at life in the British police, while the phenomenal ITV hit Broadchurch followed an unlikely pair of detectives leading the police investigations into the murder of a young boy.
The Bill also followed with police, but with a soapier appeal. Mainstream soaps followed, incorporating whodunit plot lines into their schedule. EastEnders celebrated its 25th anniversary with a live episode revealing the answer to the long-running question 'Who killed Archie Mitchell?' It was an echo of their 2001 plot 'Who Shot Phil?' and will be followed by a 30th anniversary episode responding to another question: 'Who Killed Lucy Beale?'
What draws people to crime stories? Critics are divided.
As the years passed, we became more interested in gritty, imported dramas. From the US, thrillers like Breaking Bad, Homeland and Prison Break had us trembling on our sofas. Scandinavian dramas such as Wallander, The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge brought us Nordic noir with strong female leads. The same was true in fiction, with Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy selling millions worldwide. Yet the Danes were equally gripped by Midsummer Murders and Waking the Dead, imported British productions that attracted huge numbers of viewers.
The magnetism of murder
What draws people to crime stories? Critics are divided. Some claim that we find these stories interesting because they ask us to pay attention and involve us in an active quest. We might think that we pick up a book or turn on the TV to switch our brains off and relax, but the crime genre offers us a puzzle to solve and involves us in an entertaining intellectual game.
Others point to the fact that crime fiction gets us to think in more complex ways. As perhaps the most sociological of all genres, it invites us to consider issues of right and wrong, good and evil, crime and punishment. It offers us creative ways to discuss grief, tragedy and evil as they appear in the world around us, and to recognise their powerful effect on our society.
Perhaps we're addicted because crime plots look at this reality and offer us comforting catharsis and resolution. They reassure us that beyond chaos there can be order, and beyond confusion there can be clarity. Even if things cannot always be put right, the culprits of crimes can be caught and justice can be administered. Or, some claimed, maybe imagining fictional tales of murder allows us to express our own hidden desire for violence?
What everyone can agree on it that crime fiction is what one critic has called "a habit forming drug". It gives us an adrenaline rush from the comfort of our armchairs, and solving its riddles can become addictive.
Crime fiction clearly offers Christians lots of important themes to consider. Does that mean we should surrender ourselves to the addiction? Or do we need to exercise caution when consuming these stories of violence and corruption? Considering a few of the most popular recent crime stories should offer us some clues. As Sherlock might say, the game is afoot.
* * *
At the centre of many crime stories is the detective. But in more recent crime fiction, the detective is no unblemished, omniscient power who can save the day. He is a tangle of complex motivations and emotions.
It's true that Sherlock, "the most perfect reasoning and observing machine the world has seen", was far from perfect in Conan Doyle's original depiction. He was erratic, unsentimental and used cocaine and morphine to escape from "the dull routine of existence". Modern adaptations have emphasised his troubled nature and difficult personality. In Guy Ritchie's 2009 film, Robert Downey, Jr. plays Sherlock Holmes, racing around the streets of Victorian London to investigate a plot to overthrow the British Government. He is rebellious, unkempt and eccentric. He's an obsessive man of the mind, drawn to tiny details which allow him to make his grand deductions. However, he's also an expert boxer and always ready to throw a few punches.
Compare this with the BBC's hit show Sherlock, a resolutely modern, London-based adaptation. Our crime-solving hero is presented as "a new sleuth for the 21st Century", supplementing his trademark methods of logical deduction with cutting-edge scientific methods and the latest technology. Sherlock is brilliant, fast, dynamic, dapper and funny. Yet he's also arrogant, odd, obsessive and, as journalist Amanda Mitchison puts it, "slightly Aspergers-ish". He solves crimes not out of concern for the victims, but to satisfy his own restless intellectual curiosity. His main priority is not people, but the pursuit of truth at any cost. He struggles to form meaningful human relationships. In fact, he finds crime scenes thrilling and is oddly enthusiastic about the thought of murder. Far from being a selfless saviour, he's blunt, rude and sometimes downright nasty. His egotistical and selfish approach to life is exaggerated even more than in Ritchie's adaptation, and it poses a poignant question: at what point does an anti-hero become a villain?
Life does not fit the neat laws of detection
The same question could be asked of Agatha Christie's famous detective Poirot. Many modern Brits will know him best as a character played on TV by David Suchet. The eccentric Belgian detective is dignified, precise, and always on time. He loves beauty, elegance and neatness. He wears a stiff, upward-curling moustache and patent leather shoes with spats. He's blunt, argumentative and self-important. He's also "the greatest mind in Europe" and relies on his "little grey cells" to help him solve mysteries. An adaptation of the final Poirot story, Curtain, was aired on ITV in 2013. In Curtain, Poirot is faced with a series of murders in an English manor house. All of the inhabitants become suspects, as each is hiding a dangerous secret. But Poirot is now aged and arthritic. Will he be able to solve the crime before his ill-health get the better of him? Poirot insists that, though he is becoming physically vulnerable, his brain is "as magnificent as ever". As the bodies pile up, he does manage to solve the case. However, he's hesitant to announce his conclusion, telling his old friend Captain Hastings, "When you see the light, you might wish you hadn't."
Instead, Poirot takes drastic action that calls into question many of the fundamental rules on which the detective story is based. Are the heroes and villains really so different? Is murder never justified? Should people take the law into their own hands? In fact, the Poirot stories end on an ambiguous note, with many of these questions left unresolved and uncertainty hanging in the air. It's because, as Poirot explains, life is more complicated than finding the evidence that leads to the killer. It's about human motivations – complicated and tangled things that defy neat solutions. "When a thing's right or wrong, it should be awfully simple to say so, shouldn't it?" Poirot claims, but he recognises that this is not the case. Life does not fit the neat laws of detection. However powerful the logic of the human mind, there are some questions that the detective simply cannot answer.
The new detective
If traditional detectives were defying our expectations, the new detectives of contemporary crime stories followed suit. Many of them defied our expectations of what a detective should be like. Prime Suspect rewrote the rules, starring Helen Mirren as a no-nonsense female detective. The book and subsequent TV adaptation of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency also followed a female detective, who is also Botswana's first. The award-winning novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was narrated by a would-be Sherlock in the form of teenage boy "with some behavioural difficulties". Donna Tarrt's The Little Friend gave the narrative to a twelve-year-old girl. These characters did not have the same intellectual genius as Sherlock. They were just ordinary people trying to get to the bottom of terrible crimes.
many of these new detectives are morally ambiguous characters with complicated backstories
Far from being straight-forwardly ingenious heroes, many of these new detectives are morally ambiguous characters with complicated backstories. They come with demons of their own: alcoholism, relationship troubles, a violent temper, or perhaps acute arrogance. Detective stories are therefore about more than just a series of crimes to be solved. They've become stories about the detective, his home life, and his own personal development.
In House, the misanthropic medical genius played by Hugh Laurie is determined to "eliminate the humanity from the practice of medicine", but battles with his drug addiction. When Luther begins, the central detective is fighting for his career and his marriage. Broadchurch's DI Alec Hardy is a rude man who is estranged from his daughter, suffers severe health problems and works incessantly as penance for failing to fully solve a previous murder case. Angel focuses on a vampire detective with a human soul, plagued by his own demonic tendencies.
Most alarmingly, the eponymous character in Dexter represents a complete collapse of the boundary between detective and criminal. Dexter Morgan is both an analyst for the Miami Metro Police and an undiscovered serial killer. In the advertising for the series he is shown splattered in bright red blood. Even the way he eats breakfast is sinister. He explains:
I just know there's something dark in me and I hide it. I certainly don't talk about it, but it's there always, this Dark Passenger. And when he's driving, I feel alive, half sick with the thrill of complete wrongness. I don't fight him, I don't want to. He's all I've got.
The detective is the one who is supposed to discover the truth, administer justice, and make everything right. But suddenly, even he can't be trusted.
The bad guys
As the distinction between detective and criminal became blurred, a number of directors attempted to see things from the side of the criminals. Crime capers abounded in the cinemas, including Ocean's Eleven, Catch Me If You Can, Gangs of New York, The Bling Ring and American Hustle. Along with these, The Ladykillers, We're the Millers and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa helped us to laugh at the culprits. On the small screen, Hustle presented a gang of likeable con artists who set out to scam the scammers and The Real Hustle revealed genuine cons played by today's grifters. Some of these shows asked us to feel sympathy for the criminals, other to humour them, and all to pay them close attention.
What they revealed was that we're all just a few steps away from committing a crime. No one is perfect, and anyone could be harbouring dark and dangerous secrets. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the award-winning 2011 film adaptation of John Le Carré's classic spy novel was a perfect example. British intelligence agent George Smiley is brought out of retirement to find a mole within the upper echelons of MI6. Is the traitor Percy 'Tinker' Alleline, Bill 'Tailor' Haydon, Roy 'Soldier' Bland, or Toby 'Poorman' Esterhase? Or could it even be the spy himself, Smiley? The important thing is that any of these are a possibility. There are no obvious signs that set the criminal apart from anyone else. Of course, they must be hidden at first to make the film a riddle at all. But right up until the moment of revelation, it's clear that any of the characters could so easily be the traitor. That's why it is important to "trust no-one".
we're all just a few steps away from committing a crime
The message that anyone has the potential to be a criminal reached TV too, where even the least likely candidates found themselves caught up in murderous situations. Lester Nygaard, a downtrodden life insurance salesman from Minnesota, is sick and tired of his wife's nagging. So begins Fargo, a 2014 TV tribute to the Coen brother's 1996 film of the same name. Lester's world changes when Lorne Malvo arrives in town and reveals a dangerous secret. "Your problem is you've spent your whole life thinking there are rules", he tells Lester. "There aren't." Suddenly Lester has become the world's least likely murderer. Is the same message true of our society? What if you could set free all of your hidden violent desires? What if there were no consequences? In this kind of world, anyone is a potential criminal.
Writing in 1944, Edmund Wilson described the structure of a classic detective story like this:
Everybody is suspected in turn, and the streets are full of lurking agents whose allegiances we cannot know. Nobody seems guiltless, nobody seems safe; and then, suddenly, the murderer is spotted, and – relief! – he is not, after all, a person like you or me.
Worryingly, in contemporary crime fiction, the murderer turns out to be a person just like you or me.
How, then, are we to understand their actions? Indeed, these new stories don't just keep the audience guessing 'whodunit', but they probe the psychological and emotional life of the characters asking 'whydunit'. Some programmes, like Luther, gave the criminals perverse personal vendettas or twisted desires. Others, like Broadchurch suggested that there's simply no way of understanding what goes on in the mind of a criminal.
When the Broadchurch murderer is eventually caught, Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller is determined to know what motivated the crime. Was it jealousy, secrecy, paedophilia, or what? "Why do you need a category", Detective Inspector Alec Hardy asks. She responds, "I need to understand." But the terrible truth that Alec delivers is that "people are unknowable. You can never really know what goes in inside somebody else's heart." It's for that reason that he is, in the end, able to answer whodunnit, but never fully whydunit. Ultimately, he's forced to confess, "I don't have the answers." In modern crime fiction, the questions and suspicions linger long after the solution has been reached.
Crime fiction usually revolves around the intelligent detective, on a hunt to find the brutal criminal. Contemporary stories have complicated both of these characters, but what of the victims? Usually the bloody corpse is briefly glimpsed, and their family may be informed of the terrible news. They're then forgotten as the hunt for the murderer gets underway. However, in newer crime narratives the victims no longer drop like flies. Instead, we see the impact of the murders on the surrounding community. Death weighs much more heavily, grief is expressed more subtly, and the characters react with emotional force. Writer P.D. James sees it as a response to our "growing desire for realism" in crime fiction.
Alice Sebold's critically acclaimed book The Lovely Bones (also a 2009 film) is narrated by a teenage girl who has been raped, murdered, and now sits in heaven watching her grieving family hunt for her killer. Jodi Picoult topped the New York Times Best Seller list with Nineteen Minutes, a novel depicting the aftermath of a school shooting in a small American town. Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin explored the aftermath of a school massacre through the eyes of a grieving mother.
Also taking a hard look at the victim's community was ITV's ten-part drama series Broadchurch, a suspenseful whodunit centred on the murder of an eleven-year-old boy called Danny Latimer. As well as showing the hunt for the killer, Broadchurch was a character-driven drama that looked at the grief of the fictional Dorset community in which Danny lived. As the inhabitants of the town become suspicious of one another and new twists are revealed, the emotional tone becomes increasingly tense. The nation was gripped. In the age of box-sets and online streaming, it seemed to resurrect the water-cooler effect. Amazingly, no one leaked details of the conclusion and over 10 million viewers tuned in for the final episode. More surprising was the strength of the emotional response; many critics confessed to weeping as they watched. A second series was promised and a US version is also in the works.
there was a fear that you couldn't address.... People need hope right now
- Revd Paul Coates, Broadchurch
Creator and writer Chris Chibnall had worked on Law and Order UK before coming to Broadchurch. He felt that crime fiction too often ignored the victim's family, and he felt a responsibility to portray their grief in a more realistic way. He also wanted to allow viewers to explore what would it feel to live through a terrible event, such as the murder of a local child. He succeeded: whilst we watched the search for Danny Latimer's killer in Broadchurch, a number of other names echoed in our heads and on our Twitter feeds: Madeleine McCann, April Jones, Shannon Matthews, James Bulger. It underlined the relevance of the show and the realism of the grief that it portrayed.
One of the suspects in Broadchurch is the local vicar, Revd Paul Coates (Arthur Darvill). He explains to DI Hardy the consequences for the community when the detective can't provide all the answers, and claims that the Church becomes a source of strength and optimism:
People turned to me, people who wouldn't normally even think about religion. They asked me to speak. They asked me to listen. They needed me. Do you know why? [...] Because there was a fear that you couldn't address. A gap that you couldn't plug. Because all you have is suspicion and an urge to blame whoever is in closest proximity [...] People need hope right now and they are certainly not getting it from you.
Broadchurch revealed that when tragedy strikes, people do not just want conspiracy theories and rash convictions. They need something more than the conclusions that the detective tries to offer. In the complicated, painful twenty-first century world, riddled with sin and pain, lacking in answers, people need something more.
* * *
Crime fiction has always been popular, but why the sudden surge of interest? Why do stories of murder consistently top the bestseller lists and fill the airwaves?
The reason most commonly given is that we live in a climate of suspicion. We are increasingly isolated from each other. We no longer have the close-knit communities in which murder mysteries are usually set, where the horror is that your well-known neighbour or friend could be the murderer. Now, in contemporary crime fiction, the horror is that we don't know our neighbour at all. Every face in the street is an unknown, every person a potential threat. We are suspicious, anxious and fearful.
Why do we watch so much of this feel-bad telly?
They remind us of the complexity and darkness of humanity. They presents us with the final mystery of the human mind. They remind us that people's motivations are not governed by ordered laws, that the truth can be hard to find, and that "you can never really know what goes in inside somebody else's heart".
If contemporary crime fiction reveals some of our fears and anxieties, but doesn't resolve them, why do we choose to dwell on it? Why do we watch so much of this feel-bad telly? It's because these programmes touch a nerve. Twenty-first century Brits probably experience less violence and crime than any previous generation. Many of us live sheltered lives, with little real contact with death or suffering. However, the media portrays our society as dangerous and scary. Stories of kidnappings, abductions and killings fill the newspapers. Our crime stories resonate with real life, and remind us of the complex questions of mortality and morality involved. However, few go any way towards answering them. For that, we need to look back to a book which so many of these stories reference: the Bible.
Violence and vengeance
Ever since G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown, religion has had an important place within crime fiction. Poirot, Sherlock, The Da Vinci Code and even Broadchurch found themselves drawn to discussions of faith and reason. It's the same with many other popular series. Bones contains debates about the relative merits of faith in science and faith in God. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the killer leaves a trail of Bible verses as clues. In Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes the baddy compares himself with Jesus. The list goes on.
The Bible itself contains its fair share of crimes and murders. The first of these comes in Genesis 4, in which Cain murders his brother Abel out of anger and jealousy. God reprimands him immediately, interrogating him by asking, "Where is Abel your brother?" Cain shows no remorse, responding coldly, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?" God knows differently.
"What have you done?" he asks, adding "The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground." God then deals Cain his punishment: the ground he works will be cursed and he will forever be a fugitive on the earth. It is not enough for humanity to learn their lesson. Just a few generations later, Cain's descendant Lamech murders a man simply for hitting him. Right from the beginning, the human heart has been rash and prone to violence.
The Bible itself contains its fair share of crimes and murders
As the years pass, nothing changes. When God looks at humanity, he sees that "the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). So he provided people with a set of rules by which to live in community with each other. His commandments included "You shall not murder". As well as laws, there were to be penalties. For every sin, there was to be a suitable, proportional punishment. Moses explained: "If anyone injures his neighbour, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him" (Leviticus 24:19-20).
When Jesus came, he preached a new message. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets", he said, "I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them." This meant that God wanted people not to live in a culture of retaliation and revenge. Jesus put it like this:
You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. (Matthew 5:38-40)
He was not promising an immediate end to violence or crime. Instead, he was offering his followers a new way to respond in the face of this violence. Rather than taking matters into their own hands, they were to submit to higher authority. In Romans, Paul explains that this means trusting in God to secure justice: "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord'" (Romans 12:19). It also meant submitting to the legal authorities of the day, as Paul writes: "Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed in power by God" (Romans 13:1).
The human heart
Aside from its ground rules about revenge and punishment, the Bible is honest about the dire condition of the human heart. Old Testament prophets wailed: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). Jesus taught the same message, saying:
For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. (Mark 7:21-23)
Even for us, living in the light of Jesus's death and resurrection, things will be no better. Timothy writes: "in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (2 Timothy 3:1-4). It's no wonder we find ourselves fearful and suspicious.
God promises to bring the resolution and justice that we long for.
The Bible knows that an individual human, however fast, ingenious or cunning, can never truly understand the motivations of another person. The comfort that the Bible offers is that God does know the heart of every person. He can see the things that we can never see, "For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).
Not only does he know the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12), but he will judge them fairly. In Jeremiah 17:10, he promises: "I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds." God promises to bring the resolution and justice that we long for.
A time is coming, the Bible tells us, when there will be judgement for all past crimes. Even those that have never been solved or have been kept secret will come to light. "For behold", Isaiah 26:21 declares, "the Lord is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain." It is a terrifying prospect, but for those who know God, there is a message of amazing hope. The prophet Isaiah says to God, "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you." Then he turns and says to us, "Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock." In amongst the terror and uncertainty, our strong and steadfast God offers us perfect peace.
The world is a dark and dangerous place ... However, there is somewhere to take our anxieties
Philippians 4:6-7 therefore tells us: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God ... will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." This peace is not something that the human mind can grasp. Even for the most intelligent detective, "it surpasses all understanding". It is, in fact, the opposite of the evil at work in people's hearts, and can replace deceit with joy (Proverbs 12:20).
Our concerns about the world are not incorrect. The world is a dark and dangerous place, and people do have complex and unknowable motivations. However, there is somewhere to take our anxieties: to Jesus. "We can cast all our anxieties onto him", the Bible says, "for he cares for us" (1 Peter 5:6-7). This is the crucial truth. He care for us. He loves us. He longs to comfort and strengthen us. It is in his love that we can find freedom from fear, as 1 John 4:18 reminds us: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." In a world where we are increasingly isolated from each other, God continues to call us into loving relationship with him.
We might enjoy the adrenaline-filled mental exercise that detective stories offer us. For Christians, there is much in them to make us think. However, they don't need to make us anxious or fearful.
When faced with Sherlock, a best-selling crime novel or Nordic noir we don't need to be overwhelmed by the terrifying truths they reveal about our world. We should take them seriously, and be mindful of the ways in which they diagnose society's dark side. But we don't need to get caught up with these worries. Instead, if we seek the Lord, he will deliver us from all our fears (Psalm 34:4).
God has a powerful and reassuring message for all of us caught in a culture of anxiety: "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10).
© 2015 Rachel Helen Smith