Until I started writing myself, I would read widely, indiscriminately and unidiscriminatingly. I had no critical faculties whatsoever and I always thought that if I wasn’t enjoying myself as a reader, it was my problem rather than something the author had done.
I just loved reading, that was all.
But, over the past five years or so, I have learned to read as a writer, developing both the ability to identify what doesn’t work and the curiosity to ask why.
This means that, more often than not, I am reading at a remove – I am less immersed than I used to be. But, even now, a magical book will come along and, despite my new-found discipline, I still just wolf it up.
Here are three things – specifically related to crime writing – that stop a book doing that for me.
1: Too much detail
Novel writing is about telling a story through detail, but some crime writing takes it too far, at the expense of character, warmth, atmosphere and momentum. You may have spent twenty years as a forensic analyst, but this isn’t a training manual.
I am currently reading a novel where large chunks of chapters are more or less lists of substances used, blood pattern anaysis, irrelevant descriptions of things in jars on shelves and indecipherable but no doubt authentic acronyms. None of this adds anything either to atmosphere or plot. There are also gratuitously graphic descriptions of post-mortems on entirely unrelated cadavers. Why do I need to know this?
2: It’s just a stream of clues leading to a neat ending.
What I am interested in as a reader (and as a writer) is how people are feeling, what they do, and why they do it.
While the joy of reading many crime novels is to be there alongside the characters working out the mystery, I don’t like it if human psychology is sacrificed for clues and plot – either by making characters do or say something that either jars or, is, on the other hand, too pat. I like writing that is sensuous and immersive – where the writer creates a world in which things happen, rather than the reverse, where things happen and the world and the characters that enact them are afterthoughts/ciphers.
Humans are messy and difficult creatures, life is never neat, endings never conclusively lead to uncomplicated, eternal happiness. As a reader, I like to go away with questions about what happens next for characters I feel I have come to know. I like the world of the novel to remain with me for a while. A neat ending is too much of a full-stop. It pushes me away.
3: Ugly/old/troubled/worka/alcoholic male detectives who never fail to score a young hottie.
Perlease, boys. Dream on.
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.