Our next set of pet hates up for debate comes from Mark Edwards, co-writer, with Louise Voss, of Killing Cupid and Catch Your Death. Both were huge hits when the pair self-published them online, becoming the first UK indie authors to reach No. 1 in both the Amazon Kindle and Amazon Fiction charts. Catch Your Death, a fun, page-turning thriller that also asks serious questions about how much we can rely on the people we entrust with our lives, will be published in a new version in paperback and on Kindle by HarperCollins on January 5th 2012.
You can find out more about Mark by visiting www.vossandedwards.com
So Mark, it’s over to you. What 3 things from the crime writing world should, in your opinion, be confined to the deadly Room 101?…
1. Research and destroy
Destroy the book, that is. Most crime novels come with an acknowledgements chapter in which the author lists the various experts they consulted and books they read, with ‘any inaccuracies being the author’s own’. (Funnily, no one ever thanks Wikipedia or Google, without whom…)
Thrillers need research and, in the course of writing a book, most thriller writers become experts in one thing or another: the precise scent of a freshly-sawed corpse, how to become a safe-cracker, what detective inspectors in Cornwall have for their tea. Exhaustive research is great – as long as you don’t exhaust your readers by splattering every page with the results of said research. Like in this extract from an unpublished thriller that I found in a skip yesterday:
Boris lifted the AK-47 and aimed. This was the moment he, and his country, had been waiting for. Even as he found the President in his sights, he couldn’t help but admire his weapon, also known as an Avtomat Kalashnikova, which was first trialled in the Soviet Union – Mother Russia! – in 1946, but not accepted into service until 1949, at which point it was adopted by the armed forces of the member states of the Warsaw Pact. Oh, this weapon had a great and interesting history!
Boris smiled wryly, ignoring the 10° F freshness, which happened to be the average temperature in Moscow on this day, April 15th, as he thought about the many difficulties that had blighted the initial phase of production of his beautiful gun. Difficulties were encountered in welding the guide and ejector rails, causing high rejection rates. Instead of halting production, a heavy machined receiver was substituted for the sheet metal receiver.
He cursed. While he had been mentally regurgitating the stuff he had read about on Wikipedia, the President had got away.
Still, you can’t blame us poor crime writers for wanting to show off a little. If you’d spent three days riding around in a police car while they arrested motorists, you’d want to describe the exact mechanics of a breathalyser test too.
2. No sex please, we’re British crime writers
It might be odd to want to put the absence of something into Room 101, but I feel there’s one thing that would improve a lot of British crime novels.
International crime writers have no problem serving up a good helping of sex along with the violence. Middle-aged writer Mikael Blomkvist is irresistible to every woman he meets in the Millennium Trilogy (and their husbands don’t even mind). The hero of the latest George Pelecanos book, The Cut, is so fit, good-looking and lucky in lust that I actually came to dislike him. Even Harry Bosch gets laid once in a while. At his age!
But we Brits are notoriously squeamish when it comes to the squelchy bits. There are exceptions, of course (Mo Hayder springs to mind) but the only semen to be found in most British thrillers is inside the various cavities of a murder victim. Wouldn’t it be nice if more of our great detectives were as skilful in bed as they are at solving crimes? Wouldn’t Val McDermid’s brilliant books be even better if, just once, Tony was to pop a little blue pill and show Carol that he wasn’t just a master at getting inside people’s minds? Don’t you think there should be more people handcuffed to beds in thrillers because they like being handcuffed to beds?
Maybe it’s shyness, or the fear of being nominated for a Bad Sex award, or perhaps it’s because readers don’t like there to be too much sex in their crime fiction. ‘She’s meant to be a serious scientist but all she wants to do is get her kit off. LOL’, tweeted one reader of Catch Your Death. You only have to look at the reviews on Amazon of most thrillers to find that one of the biggest crimes any novelist can commit is to write explicit sex scenes, especially if they use naughty words. But I would like to see more sex in our homegrown crime novels. It’s a grim old world out there. Let’s spread a little… I mean, let’s spread a little joy.
3. The pet gets it
Most cats and dogs lead a pretty cushy life. As much foul-smelling processed meat as you can eat. A warm place to curl up and scratch your fleas. Maybe even a little overcoat to keep you warm when it’s a bit nippy outside.
But pity the poor pet who finds him or herself in a crime novel. It’s a rule of stalker novels that the stalkee has to live on her own with a molly-coddled moggy or a cute little dog. But you can bet your last Bonio that by the end of chapter twelve, eight out of ten of these pampered pets will have perished at the hands of the barking mad anti-hero.
Psychopaths and serial killers, too, invariably start their killing careers by practicing on their animal companions.
He squeezed the hamster in his gloved fist, staring into its little beady eyes as the spark of life there was extinguished. As he dropped the tiny lifeless rodent into the bin, he realised he had felt nothing. Except now, he had a taste for killing. Next time, perhaps he would choose something larger, like a busty cheerleader.
There is only one good example of pet-murdering in crime that I can think of, in the film Fatal Attraction, and that’s good mainly because it gave us the immortal phrase ‘bunny boiler’, which will remain in the language long after the movie is forgotten.
Why can’t we have a serial killer who loves animals, who perhaps has a trusty canine sidekick whose leaky bladder he tolerates with good humour? Super-villains often have fluffy cats, and thugs usually keep a Staffs, handy for dog-fighting scenes and biting policemen, but just for once I’d like to see a psycho stalker who doesn’t think cats are for poisoning and dogs are for bludgeoning – even the annoying little yappy ones.