Sarah Hilary let’s You’re Booked into her Pet Hates with Room 101!!!
- Don’t Look Now
But there’s a nest of cockroaches in the victim’s chest cavity and a taxidermist’s coup de grâce sewn inside her stomach. Oh and do excuse me while I finish digesting the maggots from my head injury… These pesky serial killers and their fanciful ways of despatching people. Don’t you just hate it when you wake up duct-taped to the kitchen ceiling while your husband’s liver is being whizzed to a smoothie in your Magimix 5200XL? Whatever happened to good old-fashioned stabbings and shootings? I’m all for a plot that leaves me queasy from adrenaline, but a bit sick of being made to feel, well, sick because the author imagines that’s the way to grab my attention. The SAW movies have this genre stitched up. The trouble is, who ever gives a hoot for any of Jigsaw’s victims? No one.
- Breakfast at Southfork
I owe this one to Linda Wilson over at Crime Review UK who pointed out that breakfast at Southfork was a device used by the writers of Dallas to bring us up to speed with plot developments. It’s a device used in crime fiction, too (and all fiction, I suspect). If you’re worried your readers have pesky questions arising from your cunning twists, you may be tempted to get your lead detective to explain what just happened in a speech to a colleague or (worse) an inner monologue. Or your publishers might ask you to append this, fearing that readers have failed to keep up. It’s actually very bloody hard to end a crime novel without deploying a breakfast at Southfork moment (Mo Hayder manages it magnificently in Hanging Hill). Even so. ‘Don’t Patronise the Reader’ ought to be Rule #1 for all writers but especially do not patronise crime readers, who are some of the smartest people you’ll meet.
After a killing spree that would have George A. Romero blushing, the killer is revealed as a victim of child abuse, or neglect, or else someone once said something horrible about his cat or killed his dog. The latter being the only unforgivable crime in any fiction or so I’m told (so don’t be surprised if French TV drama Spiral gets cancelled after committing this atrocity). I like a psychological explanation as much as the next person, but if I read another crime novel where All Is Explained and/or Forgiven because the villain once glimpsed something nasty in the woodshed, I may have to throw a book at a wall. And you know you don’t want me to do that. So give me layers, give me backstory, give me motive. But please don’t make it black and white. The world isn’t black and white. Which reminds me of my favourite joke. What’s red and green and silver? A zombie with forks in its eyes. Nice.
Sarah Hilary has worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. Her debut novel, SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN, was the Observer’s Book of the Month (“superbly disturbing”), a Richard & Judy Book Club bestseller, and has been published worldwide. NO OTHER DARKNESS, the second in the Marnie Rome series, is out in 2015. The series is being developed for television by the BBC.