1. Unlikelihood Spotters
I appreciate that a detective story should have some basis in reality – the whole business of unravelling a mystery obviously falls apart if the writer just suddenly says, “And the murderer is, I dunno, that bloke over there who just came in” – but there’s an inherent unreality to a lot of crime fiction, just as there is with lots of other genre fiction. And while the gritty realism of police procedurals is great for explaining why the hero or heroine keeps coming across murders (because they’re in the murder squad) you have to allow some leeway for the poor sods who live in a more fictive world. What I’m saying is I don’t care that Jessica in Murder She Wrote is always around when there’s a murder (“Maybe they should arrest her, ha ha”) or that Midsomer has a crime rate that would shame New York. These series have their own rules and laws, just like Harry Potter books or scifi novels, and you either accept them or go and watch Downton Abbey (a show with no rules or laws or any coherence which is used here as an example purely because I dislike it, so don’t write in).
“Oh, I’m a proper writer, I could do that.” The world is littered with people who think that because they’ve won the Booker Prize, they can write in “lesser” genres. Hence a million reworkings of Sherlock Holmes, a trillion pastiches of Agatha Christie (see below) and a thousand billion ironic takes on classic detective stories, none of which have any of the character or the force of the originals. There are exceptions – Neil Gaiman and Michael Chabon have both done decent twists on Sherlock – but mostly I’d say walk away, “proper” author, this ain’t for you.
3. Agatha Haters
She writes her world brilliantly, invented at least three cornerstones of the genre and any one of her books is better than the movies or TV adaptations, yet for some reason Agatha Christie is considered something of a joke. Maybe it’s because some people think that because a character like Hercule Poirot is partially comical that she doesn’t know he’s a funny man as well as a serious one. Maybe it’s because every word she wrote and every idea she had has been stolen, parodied and (see above) pastiched and people can’t tell the theft from the trees. And maybe it’s because she was less comfortable when not writing about country house murders and cottage poisoning. But without Christie, nothing much, frankly.
So there you have it! Which of these pet hates, 1, 2 or 3, should make it into Room 101 or should perhaps all make it, or none at all? You decide! Share your thoughts below.