The Big Game

by Sheila Connolly

I hear there was a big game yesterday. (Oh, all right, I watched it. How could I not? I live in Massachusetts, and before that I worked in Philadelphia.)

I’m not a big sports fan. Football is the only public sport I follow, mainly because my high school had a very successful team and half the town turned out on weekends to watch them play. That’s the only reason I know the rules of the game. Stick me in front of a basketball game and I’m lost, and forget about hockey or soccer

And then I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area during the Golden Years of Joe Montana and the 49ers, and I was hooked for life.

I’m not alone—well over half the people in the country watch professional football, both men and women.

So why am I writing about this here? Because we’re all mystery writers, and we kill people. On paper at least—not in the real world (right, ladies?). And I think there’s a connection.

Can we agree that the human race likes conflict, often bloody? Wars have been around longer than the writing to record them. It seems to be in our blood. What is interesting is that in a number of cases, the deadly wars somehow transformed themselves into entertainment for the masses. It might not have happened all at once, but think about  the gladiator battles of the Roman Empire. Maybe early on they were a convenient way to kill off prisoners or unwanted groups of people, but at some point they became games with cheering crowds (and most likely refreshments and betting).

Same thing in the Middle Ages. Of course there were still wars, and people died. But again, after a while the messy wars became staged jousts between mounted men in armor, trying to knock each other off their horses, while lords and ladies watched. A different kind of game.

We all know crime exists in the modern world, some sophisticated, some brutal. So why does a pleasant group of not-young, non-violent ladies like us write about killing someone (or more than one someone) in each and every book we write? (Writers of suspense and thrillers are not included in this sample—that’s where you readers can go if you want blood and fear and pain.)

I think it’s the same principle, if a bit watered down. We kill off people (usually not-good people) because it gives readers a small chill—”could that have been me?”—and then we set about making things right by solving the crime. I’d guess than none of us believes that murder is a good or even a necessary thing, so what we do is as close as we can come to fixing the problem.

So, back to football. My theory is that it’s mock warfare, with the emphasis on “mock.” Nobody is supposed to die, or even get seriously injured (although sadly it does happen all too often). But we want the thrill of the battle, the small armies of big men running into each other and chasing after a small useless leather object, and we want to care enough about one team or the other that we feel happy when they win, or sad when they don’t.

Better that people get their anger and hostility out of their system watching a mock battle than taking it out on real people, right?

What about you? Are you a sports fan, do you think games are barbaric, or do you simply not care (and go read a book instead)?

County Cork Mystery #6. There are no battles, real or mock, in this book, but there is, alas, a body.