Let’s face it: murder is depressing. One minute, a gas station customer goes inside the convenience store to buy a Slim Jim, and the next, he’s gunned down when he stumbles into the middle of a robbery. It’s a sad affair, even if the death is a fictional part of a movie or novel. Sure, there are exceptions, like in the Final Destination movies, where half the fun is in predicting how each victim will meet their grisly demise, but for the most part, nothing good ever comes from people getting killed. That’s why humor can be an important element in a murder mystery. It creates a nice break from the grim reality of death.
You can find many different levels of humor in mysteries. When I’m looking for a rollicking adventure that happens to involve the occasional homicide victim, I can pick up the latest Janet Evanovich novel and know I’ll be entertained with a light-hearted read. Stephanie Plum finds herself stuck in all sorts of ludicrous situations, from trying to apprehend a naked guy covered in grease to finding dead bodies under unusual circumstances.
If I want a darker story, I turn to John Sanford and his Prey series. I know I won’t be giggling my way through the story as I read about the latest serial killer mutilating people in horrific ways, but Sanford manages to insert the occasional joke to alleviate the mood. Usually, Lucas and his coworker Del engage in a natural and easy cop banter that is the result of years of working together. This periodic lightness provides a nice contrast to the dark story.
Not every murder mystery or thriller needs humor. I’ve read and thoroughly-enjoyed plenty of books where there was nary a snicker-worthy moment. But I’ve never finished a book and said, “Hmm…way too much humor in that thing.” Jokes are always welcome, even when dead bodies are involved.