In a Golden Age mystery, if a girl wears her hair parted in the middle and drawn back into a knot “like a Madonna”, she will not be the murderer.
In novels of 70 years ago, the old nanny inverts her sentences: “A young man to you seem he may! Insulted I’ve bin!”
In a bad historical novel, good characters are given contemporary attitudes and ploddingly spell out why slavery is wrong, democracy is good and witches wise.
Modern detective stories have to contain a dysfunctional (and young) computer geek to do the computery bits of the investigation. Sometimes she is female and an ex-hacker.
Beware the fringe play with a lot of unnecessary “multimedia” that nobody really knows how to work and that breaks down halfway through.
Look out for the person who only thinks they are paralysed. The converse is the wheelchair-bound character who walks about the house unobserved, or the “blind” person who can really see.
I just popped out to the chemist’s and now I’m in Istanbul. (Graham Greene)
Beautiful woman turns up and tells hero a long tarradiddle. It turns out to be a pack of lies – he challenges her and she tells another pack of lies. (Maltese Falcon, Playback)
The household that lives as if Queen Victoria was still on the throne. Sometimes ruled by a terrifying matriarch. (Police at the Funeral)
The old gods are still alive and living as normal people. (The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break)
Modern mysteries: a distinctly modern inclusion of every form of perversion, along with the tendency to turn the detective’s lives into turgid serial drama... The problem with all modern crime fiction: the puzzle is almost an addendum to “larger” issues. (Ahsweetmysteryblog.wordpress.com)
Menus (lengthy descriptions of food)
Intriguing setting (monastery, police academy)
Two strands that intertwine (local crime, larger issue)
Outsider who integrates with the community as both come to understand each other
Outsider who wears the mask but inwardly is mass of seething resentment
Token waspish gay couple who run a B'n'B.
(Ah, Sweet Mystery on writer Louise Penny)
Stop with the orientalist book covers! If book is about Muslims in Brooklyn, no camels necessary! (Su'ad Abdul Khabeer @DrSuad)
Optimistic futures were always, always vastly outnumbered by end of the world stories with mutants, Frankenstein creations that turn against us, murderous robot rebellions, terrifying alien invasions, and atomic horror. (Vintagegeekculture.tumblr.com)
Over 90% of stories submitted to Galaxy Science Fiction still nag away at atomic, hydrogen and bacteriological war, the post atomic world, reversion to barbarism, mutant children killed because they have only ten toes and fingers instead of twelve. (H.L. Gold, editor of Galaxy Science Fiction, in 1952)
We never said “Was that a shot?” but always “Was that the well-known bark of a Mauser?" ... As chapter gives place to chapter, and still no arrows stick quivering in the tent-pole, and still no tomtoms throb, the observant reader will get pretty fed up. (Adventurer Peter Fleming)
Murderous types who have gone to extreme lengths to cover up crimes will then confess for apparently no reason at all. (Moira Redmond)
“Well, I’ve met the crusty egomaniac, the ingenue, and the juvenile! But who’s the brains of the operation?” (Jessica Fletcher)
Every character is either headed for a padded cell, disappearing into a gaping maw or recording their final thoughts as murderous cultists descend on them. (Guardian arts blog on horror writer HP Lovecraft)
Plot of every book ever: Someone is looking for something. Commercial version: They find it. Literary version: They don't find it. (Novelist @matthaig1)
Stock characters – the gruff, lovable husband; the bright, spirited young girl... (LRB August 2014 on Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi)
"Bighearted" is the new "luminous." (Nancy Friedman @Fritinancy)
The longer he or she has been in the public eye, the more likely are they to retreat into tired anecdotes that have already been rehearsed many times over ... cut through the easy laughs, the PR veneer ... cliché’s, banality, point scoring and psychobabble are discarded. (Guardian 2008 on ghost writing)
Tintin falls in love with Hans Castorp’s sexy Russian girlfriend and before you know it he’s waist deep in the horror that is “witty” postmodernism. (Kate Saunders Times 2009)
He is very taken by Anastasia, who in the time-honoured Mills'n'Boon style of demure secretaries with tempestuous plutocrats and nurses with hot-tempered brain-surgeons, is strangely unafraid of him. (Peter Bradshaw on 50 Shades of Gray)
There are endless scenes where [mystery writer] Dorothy Sayers puts her own opinions into approved characters’ mouths, and then has (less clever and attractive) others arguing with those views and being defeated. (Moira Redmond)
The idea of two contrasting assassins is centuries old. (Terry Pratchett)
Statistics show that you’re most likely to get your own story in a girls’ comic if you’re a sporty, disabled, artistic Victorian orphan who lives with a violent aunt or uncle, having a hurt sister/brother/pet who you need to earn money for, but don’t realise that your best friend secretly resents you, the snobs are plotting against you, and an evil mastermind is attempting to take over your school and you’re the only one who can resist her powers. (bbc.co.uk)
TRANSCENDING THE GENRE
PD James contended that, unlike Dame Agatha, she was attempting to use the mystery genre to enlighten us about the human condition... Who’s to say Christie did not accomplish this very thing? (Ahsweetmysteryblog.wordpress.com)
Has anyone else noticed how crime fiction that "transcends the genre" (understand: no plot, no detection, no fun) is now referred to as "literary crime fiction"? The label is bad enough, but the underlying idea that other forms are not "literary" and that being "literary" should be the aim of any serious, self-respecting crime writer is infuriating. (Xavier Lechard)
Snobbery is the worst attribute of all, in my view, and unfortunately detective fiction can have a bit of an inferiority complex sometimes. It's like when something science fiction is released and the author/actor/whoever says, "I don't consider it sci-fi," as though the work is in some way superior to others in the genre. As an aspiring writer, I try to make the story fun, with humour and exciting scenes... Sadly, publishers seem to prefer drug-overdoses, dead prostitutes, child abuse, gory crime scenes and a moody detective, with a bit of torture thrown in too. (David Jones)
"Plot is for precocious schoolboys. What matters is the imaginative truth, and the perfection and care with which it has been rendered. After all, you don’t say of a ballet dancer, ‘He jumped in the air, then he twirled around, et cetera ...’ You are just carried away by his dancing.” Edna O’Brien, explaining why 99% of what passes for "literary fiction" is unreadable. (Xavier Lechard)
In his foreword to the French edition of Sayers's Lord Peter Views the Body, Paul Morand says... The detective novel can't achieve genuine literary greatness because it is so carefully planned. "Real" novelists let their characters go and grow free whereas detective novelists have to make them cogs in a greater machinery; their behaviour and fate is fixed from the start. This argument seems to have been very popular with French critics, probably because of the local infatuation with the psychological novel... I find it flawed, though, as not all literary writers let their characters decide the course of the story - also it presupposes that the psychological novel is the only way to literary greatness, which I dispute. (Xavier Lechard)
For those interested in how life was before their time, contemporary films intended for short-life consumption can tell you more than any amount of memoirs and after-the-event recitations. And often more honestly. There's a lot of retrospective repainting that goes on. (RI)
The most interesting things are always done in the period when a medium is considered disposable trash. (Vintagegeekculture.tumblr.com)