Friday, 10 April 2009

Who Did It, Why, How and Were Prawn Cocktails Involved?




I have been reading a detective novel and mulling over the notes I made at the debate at the Literary Festival I attended about the genre. The detective/crime novel encapsulates death in this neat package, there seem to be some strange rules that can emerge or it may be that I see them differently from other people, although I will readily admit to loving them in small time framed stints of frenzied reading. Here are some things I have noticed.

There is usual a death or a few deaths but not enough to tip it over into war or a small scale atrocity but serial murders are permissible and at least two murders or one and an attempted murder are usually required.

The murderer does not kill without reason nor is a death senseless, there is some sort of internal logic to his/her/their actions even if it is only a need to pursue randomness itself but usually this is done to camouflage one particular act or murder.

There is someone, usually a detective, but not necessarily so, who seeks to impose some sort of order or just outcome on events.

Usually the thoroughly bad meet some sort of satisfactory end even if it is only discovery and being made to acknowledge publicly through the criminal justice system that they have been detected in their misdemeanour/crime/murder.

Accomplices usually mess up or end up dead.

The bringer of order or justice is usually fighting their own smaller demons whilst dealing with the bigger devil of a culprit. The bringer of resolution or justice is allowed flaws but not quite as big as the flaws of the main perpetrator of the main crime/crimes.

The genre leaves you feeling that there is some sort of resolution, very bad things are never waved on with a ‘ah well shit happens’ attitude.

Good people can do bad things but there is a reason we can empathise with them as to why they do such things. Bad people can do good things but their reasons are much more suspect and are usually driven by a need to appear good rather than embrace goodness.
Everyone is capable of bad things given certain circumstances but we never feel quite as satisfied if the ‘pushed to his or her limit’ perpetrator of a crime is given their just desserts rather than a real bastard of a perpetrator.

The current trend for serial killers to be also the bringer of justice is confusing but manageable if we feel they only serial kill bad people or inconsequential people.

Women detectives or bringers of justice or solvers of crime in many current expressions of the genre, have to exhibit their flaws mainly in the form of alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, a history of abuse of some kind or a feisty nature or intelligence at odds with the period of history they happen to find themselves in.

There are always reasons.

Strange coincidences are either not coincidences or are needed to drive the plot

Male detectives or bringers of justice exhibit their flaws mainly through bad temper, anger management issues, alcoholism, sexual promiscuity ( see female detectives re these last two) or post traumatic stress disorder following a nasty past experience either involving the armed services or a woman with a knife/gun/evil and twisted nature.

Sudden death is explainable on all levels.

A good crime novel is one that keeps you reading when you should be asleep and you have to be up early the next day and where you are convinced that if you read just one more chapter you can predict the outcome.

A bad one can make you laugh at the clich├ęs.

There is a twist sometimes a double or triple twist but anymore twists and you get annoyed and this involves someone or something not being what it or they seem to be.

Someone has to lie or not tell the whole truth.

Good people can lie.

A serial killer who also kills a dog or a cat is irredeemable and can never double as a quasi bringer of justice.

Elderly women can be very shrewd psychological profilers. They can also gut you with a dull fish knife or a sharpened crochet hook whilst appearing to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.


Shy and nervous types are never actually shy and nervous types unless they are victims or are about to become victims.

Very clever characters that think they know what is going on are usually wrong or they are about to be murdered because they hint too publicly that they think they know what is going on.

A ‘Who Dunnit’ is a morality play and if it isn’t, amorality is the moral.

A plot is not a story but a story can be a plot.

If a police detective novel was a Greek tragedy the chorus would be the other policemen in the nick who can’t see what’s going on but don’t give a toss or moan a lot.

They must be neat but not too neat. The ending can be a total shock, a mild surprise, the outcome of what you thought by the middle of the book but discounted as too complicated. It can never be obvious unless the obvious has already been worried to death and found wanting but in a strange writerly alchemy is transformed to an ending of pure gold.


I know someone a few years ago who loved crime novels she went on a Murder Mystery week-end as a tenth wedding anniversary present from her husband, she ended up accusing her husband of the murder as she decided he was somehow ‘in’ on the whole event and he always seemed to be somewhere else when a murder happened as indeed he was at home she told me when something needed doing. She also had a mild case of food poisoning from what she suspects was the prawn cocktail but not her husband as somehow he knew to stick to the pate starter. They are no longer married.

Happy Easter dear reader, may the bunny of love and life give you something meaningful if only a chocolate egg.

2 comments:

Briarcat said...

Liked your rebirth poem in the PAD challenge. Nice turn on the topic.

Writearound said...

Thanks, that poem is only my thinly disguised 'I am now sadly too old for David Tennant' poem