Saturday, October 05, 2013

What Ingredients do you hope for in a crime novel?

I am always surprised at how we all share a love of mysteries or crime fiction and yet what we hope to find between the covers is very different beyond the notion of a "crime."

If you had to name 3-5 elements you expect to find in a book beyond some crime, what would they be? For me...

1) sparkling prose
2) complex and very well -defined characters
3) a sense of place
4) originality

Now I am betting these would not be everyone's top elements and perhaps it is because I came to this from reading and writing mostly novels without a crime.

Here is what I don't like or care about so much

1. I don't particularly care about whodunnit although I'd like to understand why.
2. I don't need a lot of action. In fact, action generally puts me off in a novel. The pacing can be quite slow. I don't mind a lot of detail.
3. I hate following a detective around while he interviews suspects. This is the main reason I have stopped watching Masterpiece Mystery. Every series seems scripted by the same writers. I like detective stories, just not ones where this is the main plot device.
4. don't want the same plug- in story format. In other words, if the story is laid out much the same way all the other stories the writer has written is laid out, I am put off
5. serial killers or child murderers
6. too many POVs. I am very happy with one, in fact. 



Ed Gorman said...

voice/slant (as Hemingway called it)

Great question, Patti!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes! Relationships can carry me a long way. And voice is so important.

George said...

For me, it always starts with the plot. If the plot is weak, the book won't hold my attention for long. Then, it's the characters who bring the plot to life. If they're cardboard, the book is going to fail.

Anonymous said...

I like a plot that is well-crafted and intricate (and I don't object to a red herring or two) and all storylines to be resolved neatly. I want characters to be consistent and not to do out-of-character/stupid things just to further the plot. I gave up on Stephen King's Lesey's Story when Lesey found a dead cat in her mailbox and "forgot" to call the police because she was "so angry." Let character drive the plot not vice-versa.

I also like a one- or two-character POV narrative; more than that gets confusing. I'm reading some Ross MacDonald for the upcoming FFB and he's an absolute master at filtering everything through Lew Archer's narration and yet still keeping the action moving and the reader informed.


Dave Zeltserman said...

I like sausage and mushrooms... oh wait, those are the ingredients I like on my pizza...

as far as crime fiction, you can't break it down to ingredients or formulas. Well, I guess you can try to but there will always be exceptions because it will always come down to what the writer has accomplished, and an imaginative and skillfully written book can always trump any tropes--tired or otherwise.

Walker Martin said...

At this late date, after over 50 years of reading crime novels, I look for style, wit and humor. The same old, same old just doesn't impress me any longer. Characterization is very important; plot not so much.

pattinase (abbott) said...

There is very little humor in novels of any kind-with the exception of sarcasm and witticisms, I guess.
Yes, surprising me is a great bonus.

Dana King said...

The writing is paramount. I can live with various styles--hard-boiled, literary, whatever--so long as the writing captures me and draws me into the lives of the characters and events of the story. The plot is secondary, maybe even tertiary. (After character.)

Since I usually begin each book with an expectation I'll like it--why else would I give it a try?--it's easier for me to say what puts me off:

1. Plodding dialog
2. Stiff dialog
3. Implausible plot, or characters' reactions to events.

Humor plays a big role, too. The book doesn't have to be a comedy a la Westlake or Hiaasen, but there's uhmor in life. Humor that grows out of events or character--not jokes with punchlines--can smooth the reading of any book. (Think Elmore Leonard or Ed McBain. Their books aren't funny, but funny things happen, or get said.)

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

In a crime novel, particularly, dialogue, racy prose, plenty of action, a sympathetic detective, a romantic and a fatalistic hero, no children, an occasional graveyard, and an unexpected ending.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Unexpected is good. I don't mind children as long as they are not the victims.

Anonymous said...

Voice is very important to me, especially (of course) if it is told in first person. Try Owen Parry's Abel Jones Civil War series or Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce books. If you don't like the voice from the beginning, put the book down. One more: Josh Bazell's BEAT THE REAPER.

Place helps, especially if it is a place I know or want to know, but it isn't necessarily paramount. The story is much more important.

I like humor but again, it depends. Westlake was the master, as in DANCING AZTECS. There are "funny" writers who don't appeal to me at all, though others love their books. If I find it too over the top or stupid or implausible I'm not going to read it. If you want an example of a very popular "funny" series I could not read it is Lisa Lutz's Izzy Spellman series.

Different. If I am reading a series it helps if all books are not exactly the same (Janet Evanovich). Few manage that as well as Archer Mayor's Joe Gunther books, each one set in a different part of Vermont.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, Ioves those books, too, Jeff.

Kent Morgan said...

What I don't want for sure are serial killers and children in jeopardy. And I'm not a big fan of humour in a crime story and I can do without plenty of description. That leaves plot and setting along with characters who develop over the length of a series as being important to me. I also prefer a singular point of view. I just finished Daniel Woodrell's latest novel, The Maid's Version, that I believe got good reviews, but it gave me nothing that I enjoyed.

F.T. Bradley said...

Character first, good dialogue. I'm not into girly topics, like shoes, outfits, or a lot of dramatic outbursts (that might sound cranky, but it's what makes me put a book down).

No kid perspective in adult novels unless it's done well.

Richard said...

- Strong plot with some twists and clever enough that I can't figure out who did "it" until the author tells me.

- Well described, convincing sense of place.

- Protagonist character I can relate to, villains not cardboard, everyone acts sensibly per their motives.

- Don't try to be funny, crime isn't a joke.

- Don't kill the dog (or cat).

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - I love this question! For me, it's got to be a plot that draws me in, believable characters, and a credible solution