Top Ten Tuesday: crime tropes I can’t stand

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Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.

It’s a freebie this week, so I’ve decided to have a little look at rant about tropes following some disappointing reads over the past year.

I don’t read a lot of crime novels. This is partly because I have very limited interest in police procedurals, and partly because I’m just damned hard to please. I am irritated by any case or series that devolves into running around with guns (I find it more interesting when people solve problems with their brains rather than their weapons) and I’m yet to find any cosy crime that doesn’t irritate me.

However, there are a number of crime tropes that really get my goat. They’re not quite enough to make me throw the book at the wall, but that’s mostly because I don’t want to break my Kindle.

– Sorry, who are you again?

I don’t read crime because I enjoy police procedurals (I don’t); I read it for a ripping yarn and a bit of fun trying to figure out whodunnit. So when the murderer is some complete random from the wings, I tend to get a bit cheesed off – unless the author has managed to do a complete about-face and the crime is only window dressing for a far more interesting story about something else. I’m, uh, struggling to think of one of those right now.

This is also one of the reasons I’ve never sought out Sherlock Holmes. You don’t stand a chance of figuring it out, so unless you enjoy him being a smart-ass (which I do, immensely, on film – but I don’t think I would on-page) it’s all a bit skip to the end to find out whodunnit.

– Dude, you’re only in the novel because you’re a suspect

While there are excellent novels that pull this off (Agatha Christie, I’m looking at you), it often feels like lazy world-building. Most crimes happen in places full of people who aren’t suspects, and for a community to feel real to me I like to see them as gossips, witnesses, or just at the bus stop or selling a coffee. Sure, everyone might have done it, but most people can be disregarded almost immediately.

This plays straight into why I love Arkady Renko and Simon Serrailler books. Renko is constantly embroiled in political and personal angst that has little to do with the crimes he’s investigating, and Serrailler has a well-developed private life that is often more interesting than the investigation in hand.

– Ahem, I believe you’re the elephant in the room

We get 2 POVs – the investigator and A Member of the Public. Much as I love Simon Serrailler, this trope is central to a number of them. In Susan Hill’s case, she’s far less interested in the crimes than in the psychology of her murderers (and it’s notable that she doesn’t use this trope in the latest instalment, which focuses on child pornographers – even she has limits). However, unless you acknowledge early that your second strand is the murderer’s POV, it comes across as terribly coy. If the murderer’s identity is meant to be a mystery, I like the opportunity to figure out whodunnit, rather than having it handed to me on a plate (let alone on a plate that suggests it’s just a side dish, definitely not the main dish, oh no).

If the narrative acknowledges the POV is the murderer from the beginning (or early on, at least), I’ve got no beef with it. That’s a different sort of story, and can be enjoyed in its own right – unless it gets too gorenographic. Fetishising murder is never pretty.

– There’s always room for one more POV (no, no there isn’t)

I prefer a strong central character narrative (or a narrative shared between a few limited POVs) over the sort of omniscient third person mess that routinely introduces a new POV for a chapter (or worse, a few paragraphs). If a tidbit of information is that important to the story, find a way to tell us that doesn’t involve jumping in and out of dozens of heads. Otherwise, this often leads to…

– Oh my god, I see it now

…instances where your new POV exists only so they can die, have a shock or discover something pertinent to the case that isn’t shared with the reader.

This is my top gripe: authors describing a character’s response to something without telling you what. If this is your tool of choice for building tension and keeping your audience engaged, you’ve failed in my book.

Even one of these cliffhangers (as in Snowblind) has me grinding my teeth. Multiple (looking at you, Last Rituals, which gave me 3 in a single chapter – including one from a POV that existed only for the purpose of the cliffhanger) is unforgivable; even the Kindle may not be safe.

What tropes do you hate? (crime or other genres)