I’ve been reading a lot of crime novels lately. Too many, probably. I need to let off a little steam.
I’ve always enjoyed American hard-boiled novels. I quite like ‘tartan noir’ – or at least, I quite like Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels. And I’ve been a fan of Elmore Leonard for as long as I can remember (I met the great man at a BBC Book Club event a couple of years ago and now proudly possess a signed copy of Rum Punch). There are other writers I could list who I admire for their more literary approach to the genre.
But there are a lot of not-very-good writers out there making a killing in crime fiction. It was ever thus, I hear you sigh.
There are three things that particularly irritate me about a lot of modern crime novels, especially far too many modern British crime novels. First, the prologue. Unless the author is Geoffrey Chaucer I don’t like prologues. They are cheap and nasty things and I don’t understand why crime writers like them so much. They seem to be the fashionable accessory of the moment and as far as I can see serve no purpose other than as an artificial ‘hook’ to draw the reader into the story. Finding a prologue at the front of a novel always makes me think either (a) the author isn’t good enough to get this information into the body of his story or (b) the author isn’t sure where their story should begin. Either way, I think there must be crap writing ahead. (And the fact that some really good writers use prologues doesn’t stop me thinking that!).
Second, I don’t like it when authors allow their research to show – for example, I don’t need to know in great detail all the things the author has researched about the HOLMES computer system used by the British police. I don’t care what the acronym actually stands for. I don’t need to know when and why it was set up, how it does what it does, and so on. All I need to know is that the detectives use the wretched thing. It’s called HOLMES, for heaven’s sake – it speaks for itself. Don’t you agree, Watson? Here’s an acronym for you: RUE. Resist the Urge to Explain!
Finally, I get annoyed with crime novels that have an omniscient narrator, when the narrator tells the reader everything about each of the main characters – even taking us inside the characters’ heads to show us what they are thinking or worrying about, their hopes and fears. Then suddenly we find ourselves inside the head of the murderer as he commits his crimes, and the narrator’s descriptions become darkly vague and sketchy. Suddenly we have no idea whose head it is we are trapped in. That strikes me as nothing less than cheating the reader. And putting the whole thing in italics is no excuse!
Okay. Rant over. I’m off to take my medication.