Crime fiction has gotten very dull lately hasn't it? I should know because I get inundated with galleys and review copies and most of them are beyond tedious, without a spark of wit or a well turned phrase in any of them. And the cliches, Jesus the cliches. And the violence. Especially violence towards women and children...It's almost impossible to read some of this stuff and it makes me wonder how and why these authors ended up writing it. Were they pressured by editors or a feeling that this is what the market demands? I wonder if they ever get embarrassed. I know I get ashamed when I find myself falling into cliche or hacky situations or when the dialogue sounds tinny and false. I'm guilty, I'll admit it, but I can't be the only one, can I?
Things don't have to be this bad. Do you know who Dogme 95 are? They were a group of Danish film makers who decided that movies had gotten too bullshitty and that it might be fun to work within a set of rules that they made up for themselves: no artificial light, no extraneous music, no extensive rehearsals etc. The Dogme 95 films are very interesting: not always successful of course but original, expressive and when they fail they fail in intriguing ways. I don't think you can really do an equivalent of that in crime fiction but here's a little list of 15 things I'd like to see banned (or maybe just a moratorium of 10 years or so) from contemporary crime and mystery fiction that would force authors to think and try just that little bit harder...So, lets get rid of:
1. Clever serial killers
2. Stupid serial killers
3. Child Murderers
4. Serial Rapists
5. Everything from Scandinavia
6. Torture Porn
7. Working class stereotypes
9. Gallery owners
10. Books with recipes
11. Detectives baffled by basic scientific facts/mathematics
12. Detectives who solve crimes with magic or fairy dust (Lizbeth Sallander, the BBC's Sherlock etc.)
13. Detectives who solve crimes with cats
14. Cops who haven't heard of Ernest Hemingway or other basic elements of contemporary culture (this is an extension of #7 above).
15. Super villains. I'll explain this one. There's an entirely fallacious belief out there that gets repeated all the time (I heard JJ Abrams repeating it on TV not ten minutes ago) that a hero is only as good as the villain is bad. The hero is supposedly 'defined by the villain.' This is utter nonsense. In a well made narrative you don't even need a villain or a decent McGuffin you just need a good story and fascinating characters. JJ Abrams worships at the throne of Spielberg but he should remember that the shark in Jaws only appeared on screen for about two minutes and its Spielberg's best movie. And sometimes the most interesting part of the journey is the voyage the hero takes inside his own head. Nach innen geht der Geheimnisvolle Weg, as Novalis said. "Inward goes the way full of mystery." You know?
Of course with a good story, good dialogue and good characters you can break all the rules above and have yourself a terrific book. But still...you get what I'm talking about... and if you have your own ideas about things you'd like to ban or cliches you'd like to kill please don't hesitate to let me know.