Monday, November 14, 2011

The Personal Lives of Cops, PIs, Detectives, etc

Seven Amazon Reviews for Monkey Justice and a few blog posts about it-thanks so much, dear friends. I can't do it alone.


The other day someone said on here, "I never cared what Spenser cooked for dinner."

This led me to wonder if most people prefer crime books that stick to the facts of a crime and almost nothing but.

In a book I'm reading now by Joe Lansdale, probably a third of the story is about Hap and Leonard's personal lives. I don't mind this a bit if it's in the hands of a good writer like Lansdale. I feel that the more I know the two of them, the more interested I am in the crime they are about to solve. I actually find it tedious when a book is just a serious of interviews or action sequences. I guess I like the texture such descriptions provide. Of course, the skill of the author in doing this is crucial.

I may be in the minority here, and it may be because I read a lot of straight fiction and am comfortable hearing about someone's method of shaving, their trip to the vet with their dog with chiggers, the story of why their neighbor's walls are covered with photos. I like movies that do this too. I can feel Phil squirming beside me as I revel in watching how the Xs hang their clothes on a line.

What about you? How much personal life can you take? Did you mind reading about Spenser's cooking? Do you mind reading about Hap's sex life?


Anonymous said...

Hap's sex life, yes.
Spenser's cooking, not so much.

I gave up on Parker long ago and that was a big part of it. But it wasn't the fact of Spenser shopping, cooking, etc. as the fact that it just seemed like filler, pro forma, stuck in the book to fill out the pages until it was time to follow someone or kick ass with Hawk.

In general I like a series where the character has a personal life outside the office (so to speak) but, as always, it depends. Is it intrusive, is it a soap opera, or is it part of life?

Alan Bradley's books about precocious 11 year old Flavia de Luce are almost all about her and her family, and it works, because her relationship with her sisters is always part of the story, as it affects her and makes her who she is.

Is it necessary to read about a character's wife and children? Not usually, no, but it can add to the interest and if done well it keeps a series moving and (one hopes) growing. Also, from a cynical point of view I guess it encourages the reader to buy the next book to find out what happens to the characters.

Jeff M.

YA Sleuth said...

I like it when those bits of personal stuff somehow illuminate character, or amplify theme. But that's tough to pull off. I do like to have some idea what this character does when he or she has a Saturday off.

Randy Johnson said...

I like the Hap and leonard books and, while I didn't get tired of Spenser as quick as Jeff, I noticed the padding as well. I stuck with them because it was like visiting old friends. Parker's last Spenser I have yet to read, but when I do, I'm done. Not really interested in someone else's interpretation.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Good point, Jeff. Personal lives with drama can draw us back. Watching them deal with adversity. The crime part of it is hard not to resolve from book to book.

Anonymous said...

The other thing is, if you don't like or care about the protagonist, at least on some level, why would you want to continue reading the series?

It's all a matter of personal taste, obviously, but I don't want to spend time with kat Colorado or V. I. Warshawski or Anna Pigeon or (especially) Kay Scarpetta. I just don't. There are too many books out there I do want to read. (And no, it's not just women. These were just the first names that came to mind.)

Obviously a lot of people disagree and that's fine with me.

Jeff M.

Charles Gramlich said...

If I really like the characters, and I like Hap and Leonard, then I don't mind insertions of personal details.

Dana King said...

So long as the interludes are entertaining and show something about the character, I'm good with them. They can lighten up otherwise dreary books, and show personality traits that can't be brought out in too close a pursuit of the plot.

I do agree with Jeff about the Spenser fillers. A few of Parker's books practically alternated chapters. It got better, but by then there were only about 50 words on a page, so there was no nee for much filler.

Chad Eagleton said...

For me it seems to be what everyone else has already said--it depends on author's skill, how much I care about the characters, and whether or not it's excessive or feels like padding.

Generally, I think those things should be brief unless that's part of the shtick of your story. Brief and broken up with dialogue that illuminates something other that just how to julienne carrots. Because I just don't care. I don't and it almost always comes off as padding.

Recently tried reading George R.R. Martin's new Game of Thrones book. It was full of page after page descriptions of meals. He detailed what everyone ate every time they ate. I eventually stopped reading it and just found a plot synopsis online.

pattinase (abbott) said...

And sometimes the accretion of these prosaic facts come into play or help us to understand something essential about the character.

George said...

A little personal detail goes a long way for me. No, I don't care what Spenser cooked for dinner. Or what high-end beer he was drinking. I really didn't care about his relationship with his annoying girl friend. The relationship that counted was Spenser and Hawk.

Anonymous said...

Well, Bill Crider cares about Susan's dog.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the enjoyment of this sort of thing has to do with the reader's age in relation to the character's age? When I first read the James Bond books, at about 18, I was fascinated with his choices of automobile, drink, clothing and so on. I figured anything an international spy liked had to be very, very cool. My age probably made me think that, eh?

When I read the first few Spenser books - I gave up after about the 10th, too much filler, not enough plot - I thought the cooking was cool, because I like to cook and it was a little like comparing notes. But I was older then, it felt like I was Spenser's age (though I wasn't). and could somehow relate. I also thought Susan was really cool and desirable for a few books, then, like other people, began to get annoyed with her.

In Louise Penny's books, there is a goodly amount of food and eating, but it's part of both the main character's life and the setting - in Quebec, Montreal and Three Pines - and other than sometimes making me hungry isn't distressing.

So it depends on the book, characters, and I believe the reader's age in relation to the character's age.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Good point. If the details are of interest to you, you hang in with them. But, for me, if it's about cars, hockey, wardrobe or bridge games, I am likely to be put off.

Yvette said...

As for SPENSER, I did like to know what he was cooking. I took a fancy to a guy who looks like a big thug having delicacy in the kitchen, caring what he ate. It told me something about his character that I obviously liked.

Hated Susan. Kept wishing Parker would kill her off once and for all. But since she was based on his wife - what can you do? But I have stopped reading books because of a personal relationship.

Example: the Jonathan Kellerman books with that creature, Robin the guitar maker.

I do like personal details in a mystery, but only if they're intiguing in some way. I also like eccentricity.

I dislike the hard drinking, guy with a past stereotype. That past always comes back to bite and that's usually when I put the book down unless it's done really, REALLY well.

i.e. Joe Pike's past in Robert Crais' L.A. REQUIEM. And by the way both of these detectives are not 'hard drinking' stereotypes.

I love reading about Elvis Cole's private life. Such as it is. His little A-frame house. His long-lived cat. But again, Robert Crais can do no wrong.

As for Spenser's Hawk. I grew tired of his bad-ass shtick. I think Parker did too.

Don't miss, by the way, one of Parker's last books, ROUGH WEATHER. His best in years.

Anonymous said...

Of course, in some series the relationship of the characters is central to the series and all the mysteries. The one that comes to mind is Julia Spencer-Fleming's Adirondack-set series with Russ Van Alstyne and Claire Fergusson.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

Amen, by the way, to Yvette's comments about Robin in the Kellerman series.


Jeff M.

Erik Donald France said...

I like the personal details, at least some. Humanizing and fun.

Yvette said...

Julia Spencer Fleming's series is a great example, Jeff. I've read every book and anxiously waited for the next. Even now, I wonder what's going to happen next. A series that DEFINITELY needs to be read in order, though.

'Ick,' is a good word to describe Robin. Ha!

Deb said...

In a mystery novel, I prefer a minimum of information about the crime-solver's personal life, unless something in the detective's past relates to the crime under investigation (for example, Tana French's IN THE WOODS and FAITHFUL PLACE).

I recently gave up on a mystery novel where by page 100 I'd learned what wines the detective enjoyed (naturally, he was a connoiseur), what meals he prepared (gourmet), what books he read (dense and intellectual) but only three plausable suspects had been introduced. Too much of the wrong kind of information!

Cap'n Bob said...

Sex, si.
Cooking, no.