How Much Grit Do You Want in Your Mystery?

A Crushing Death Right cropped

I’m pleased to have mystery writer Marilyn Meredith as a return guest. Marilyn writes her Rocky Bluff, California series under the name F.M. Meredith. She has just released the latest title, A Crushing Death. Today she takes on the question “How much grit do you want in your mystery?”

My first Rocky Bluff P.D. mysteries were far grittier in the beginning than they are now. By grittier, I mean more descriptive of horrific crimes and a bit more sex. Now, I tend to shut the door and let the reader imagine what’s going on.

I could say the same thing about my Tempe Crabtree series. In both series, I wrote books about horrendous crimes against children, which I’ll never do again.

Bad Tidings and Fringe Benefits probably have the goriest murders, though An Axe to Grind has a gritty one too—but in some ways it’s also humorous. There is one later book in the series, Dangerous Impulses, with a rather bloody murder scene.

The Tempe Crabtree series has evolved almost into a procedural cozy, if there is such a thing. Some reviewers have said that about the Rocky Bluff series too, but I don’t agree. It is a bit milder than most police procedurals in that there is no “bad” language. Oh, the characters do cuss, I just don’t quote them.

I would suppose since both of my series are set in small towns, Bear Creek in the mountains and Rocky Bluff on the coast, they resemble cozies in some ways—but there are no major animal characters or tea drinkers.

In both series, the personal lives of the characters are as important as the mysteries. In the last Deputy Tempe Crabtree, Not as it Seems, Tempe’s son, who was a young teen in the first book, got married. Because the Rocky Bluff series has an ensemble cast, a lot happens in each individual’s life besides what’s going on with the job.

Though I still love to read all kinds of mysteries, I’m not as enthusiastic about the ones who describe what’s happened to a murder victim in all the grisly details. Since my taste has changed concerning what I read, I’m no longer quite as descriptive about the grittier stuff as I used to be.

Having said all that, who knows what I’ll actually do when an idea strikes me and I start to write the next mystery.

This was a great question. I’d love to hear what others have to say about the amount of grit they like in the mysteries they read or write.

Marilyn, aka F. M. Meredith

About A Crushing Death
A pile of rocks is found on a dead body beneath the condemned pier, a teacher is accused of molesting a student, the new police chief is threatened by someone she once arrested for violent attacks on women, and Detective Milligan’s teenage daughter has a problem.

F.M. Meredith, who is also known as Marilyn Meredith, is nearing the number of 40 published books. Besides being an author she is a wife, mother , grandma and great-grandmother. Though the Rocky Bluff she writes about is fictional, she lived for over twenty years in a similar small beach town. Besides having many law enforcement officers in her family she counts many as friends. She teaches writing, loves to give presentations to writing and other groups, and is a member of Mystery Writers of America, three chapters of Sisters in Crime and on the board of Public Safety Writers Association.



Facebook: Marilyn Meredith

Twitter: MarilynMeredith

Once again, the person who comments on the most blogs during this tour can have a character named after them in the next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery. Tomorrow you can find me on Jackie Zortman’s blog. Click here to view it.

Purchase your copy of A Crushing Death here.

Marilyn posted here last September about her fascination with law enforcement. You can view it here.

Marilyn (right) with her friend Mara.

Mara and Me cropped



How Much Grit Do You Want in Your Mystery? — 18 Comments

  1. Grit is also determination. So we certainly want our crime solvers to have grit aplenty!

    Great post, Marilyn. Thanks for making my blog a stop on your tour.

  2. Marilyn, I’m conflicted – I don’t like cussing in books, though an occasional ‘d*mn’ or ‘h*ll’ doesn’t bother me – what makes me throw a book against the wall is an unending flow of the f-word, the c-word, the n-word and other egregious obscenities. Also, though murder is in itself violent, I don’t like detailed and lengthy descriptions of splashing blood and severed body parts. Then a mystery book seems to become the pornography of death. As Maggie said, grit can be regarded as a good thing when referring to determination; when a story becomes gritty as in long loving descriptions of violence or bathes in obscene language… no. Just no. Thanks for a good post.

    • Well said, Janis. I completely agree with your analysis. As an author of a cozy cat mystery series and cozy adventure mystery, I think swear words should be negligible, sex behind closed doors and the murder either in the past or an attempted murder thwarted… and the victim saved. The mysteries I enjoy dont’ keep me awake at night and that a good thing.

  3. I think Marilyn and her stories both strike a nice balance of grit 🙂

  4. I like to have my imagination stirred. So overly descriptive narratives don’t go over well, especially as it refers to gory crimes.

  5. Good points all, Marilyn. I try not to dwell on the blood and guts in my stories, just give enough to stir the imagination. I hate gratuitous violence, and swearing for the sake of swearing. That does nothing for me except to close the covers… of the book, not the ones on my bed! LOL I think it’s best to leave it to the imagination of the reader — that’s what will keep them up all night, looking over their shoulders. I probably describe more than you do, Marilyn, but still only as much as I feel the reader NEEDS to know to understand what’s happened/happening. And no more.

    And when my characters swear, there’s a reason for it, or they’re that kind of person, not because I want to throw in some salty language. Maybe it’s because I was married to an ex-Marine for 28 years… I sure learned a lot of new words over those years… : ) There are times in the rewriting when I have to cut out a few—or more…

    In the case of graphic violence and “bad” language, less is definitely more.

    • I’m not around much swearing, even married to a 20 year Seabee–of course I hear it in movies and TV shows on cable, but most of the time it’s unnecessary, better acting and better writing would help in many cases. Thanks for following my tour, Susan.

  6. I struggle with defining what makes a mystery “gritty.” I avoid violence and gore, too, but there is a definite difference between cozy mysteries and gritty mysteries that goes beyond descriptions of violence or rough language. Perhaps it’s the level of tension? I enjoy all types of mysteries, just find myself in a quandry when ask to explain why!

  7. Jane, I read all kinds too, I just know my fan base and what they like and don’t like–and I’m kind of the same way when it comes to my writing.

  8. Great stuff, Marilyn. I too share your reluctance to show murder scenes in all their horrific detail. I put about as much grit in mine as I am comfortable with when reading other mysteries. Same with cussing. Thanks to you I’ve toned it down a bit. And now Bella doesn’t have Mike as a bad example in the language department. I loved Crushing Death and thought you handled the murder scene Just right.

  9. Depends. I can love a noir book with lots of grit and I can love a cozy or mystery classic with none. I think the amount of grit needs to fit the subject. As for violence, I want the minimum necessary. If it’s a suspense thriller, just enough to keep me scared that the violence will keep coming (and then I don’t want it to keep coming, just the threat). To sum it up: I’m a confused and arbitrary person.

  10. Well, my stories are not mysteries. They are stories of the street. The street is gritty and the language of the street is harsh. The violence is almost standard. Rape, murder, assaults and robberies are common occurrences. I try not to display blood and guts, but sometimes the severity of the murder is proportionate to an evil character. In one story a child molester has a heart attack and dies and his wife flushes his ashes down the toilet. In another a child pornographer is blown apart by a bomb. Although the language is rough I still drawn a line in use of certain words.