1. Short chapters
Since I became a serious reader of grownup books, at the age of 11 — in the era when there was no “young adult” fiction, just children’s books and adults’ books — I liked the calm, measured rhythm and length of the novel chapter. I like a long chapter. It’s like a movement in a symphony; it should be of sufficient length so that for a goodish stretch of time in the middle of it, the chapter’s beginning and end are out of sight and out of mind. But so often now, in crime and thrillers generally, and perhaps under the influence of Dan Brown, the emphasis is on short, punchy chapters. Bullet-point chapters. Within a few pages, the chapter is over, almost always ending on some sort of spurious cliff-hanger. It’s like a rat-a-rat drama serial. This is no good: the crime chapter should be a generous length, so that when it’s over I can lay my leather bookmark into the book and feel that I’ve earned the right to a cup of tea.
2. Poor film/telly adaptations of Agatha Christie
I know that this has been a bugbear for other contributors to this site but I have to talk about it, too. Disrespecting and patronising Agatha Christie is not on. Dull, cutesy, “picturesque” TV adaptations of Poirot and Miss Marple stories are objectionable when they fail to convey the elegance and flavour of the classic originals. I have a soft spot for Sidney Lumet’s 1974 version of Murder On The Orient Express with Albert Finney’s very interesting and vehement Poirot. But even here the all-star cast is a distraction and can’t approximate the mystery and exotic power of the novel. And to return to a point I was making above, the first adult book I ever read was Agatha Christie’s Sad Cypress. It is cerebral, finely-wrought crime fiction with a literary allusion which was to lead me to Cymbeline and then to Shakespeare. Christie is to crime what Wodehouse is to comedy. They are both inspired.
3. Explicit violence
This is perhaps a rather feeble thing to complain about, especially as my new novel, Night Of Triumph, has a reasonably explicit shooting. But as I get older, I get more timid and squeamish about violence in crime fiction, either violence in progress, or violence discovered after the event, in the form of forensic procedural etc. Of course, this is pure naivety on my part. Violence is a basic component of crime; for many people in the real world, violence is a key part of what makes crime bad in the first place. And yet I’m increasingly fastidious. Perhaps old-fashioned detective fiction is what I’m destined to read.
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.
Peter Bradshaw has worked for the Evening Standard as a lead writer and columnist. He is currently Film Critic for the Guardian and has been shortlisted twice for the British Press Awards’ Film Critic of the Year. He frequently appears on TV and radio and has written two novels in addition to the acclaimed spoof series Not Alan Clark’s Diaries. He lives in London. Night of Triumph is published by Duckworth on 31 January.