Saturday, July 09, 2011

Mystery Pet Peeves

When I reviewed Jenn McKinley's Books Can Be Deceiving, I had a few complaints about the amateur sleuth. I complained that she left her door unlocked, and went off on her own without informing the police. One person who commented begged me to allow everyone to discuss their pet peeves about mysteries. (I'm talking about you, Karen Russell, so you better participate!) Then, Esri Allbritten, author of Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, mentioned a couple things she didn't want to see her characters do. She said she would, "Prefer that they not behave stupidly, hide things from the police, or act against their own interests."

So much of that goes along with an abbreviation that was once coined by someone on Dorothy_L, the mystery listserv. I totally agreed with the person who complained about women who were TSTL, "Too Stupid To Live." Why are they meeting someone in a spot in an isolated spot in the middle of the night? Why don't they tell someone where they're going? And, how many covers did you see on Gothic novels in the '70s (dating myself), with a woman in a flowing gown and high heels? High heels? I've complained about amateur sleuths who forgot they had children when they investigated, or forgot about their pets. I've always admired Sara Rosett's character, Ellie Avery, for remembering her children, and placing their safety first. Darn, people. If you're going to give the character children, don't let them go off without regard to the safety of the kids. Or, don't bother to give them kids or pets. I have cats. I go home to feed them BEFORE I go someplace in the evening. So, should a sleuth.

I've already complained about book jackets that are nothing like the book, and that's nothing the author can really address. So, today's your chance to talk about it. What drives you nuts with mysteries? What are your pet peeves? And, Karen? I'm waiting to hear from you.

35 comments:

Liz V. said...

You've mentioned a number of my pet peeves, such as withholding info from police and disregard for own or others' safety.

Another is disregard for law. I admit liking Grafton's series but also gringing when Kinsey Millhone obtains info creatively.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

One of mine is when the killer *always* just kills quickly *until* the protagonist arrives, and then the killer suddenly gets chatty enough to give the protagonist enough time to turn the tables, kill the killer, and walk away unscathed. A little more realism would be good! I respect authors who do not fear to have characters get killed (e.g., Susan Hill and Karin Slaughter), or mangled up (Jo Nesbo) because sometimes it has to happen!

Another is when the hero and heroine are a combination of always gorgeous, thin, and moreover, always eating junk food. Gimme a break!

Juliet Blackwell said...

I have a pet peeve that applies not only to mysteries, but all fiction: the heroine (or hero) who goes around acting like a self-centered jerk all the time, but who is surrounded by friends who bend over backwards for them. How do these people have friends???
A similar school of writing shows people being absolutely miserable to members of the opposite sex, and yet they are somehow irresistible, romantically speaking.
Thanks for the fun topic ;-) Couldn't agree more about the children/pets thing. Drives me nuts.

Lesa said...

Liz,

I agree. If a detective has a license, why do they not have a regard for law? I understand we all have to suspend disbelief, and private detectives do have to have a way to get information for the sake of the story, but I do agree.

Lesa said...

Love that second comment, Jill, about the gorgeous hero and heroine always eating junk food, but being skinny. You're right!

Lesa said...

I guess I haven't "MET" too many of those characters, Juliet. But, I think it's because I quit reading a book if I can't stand the main character, and then I wouldn't remember much about it later. I've even quit books after 150 pages, saying I just don't like any of the people in this book, so why am I reading about them.

That part about pets reminds me of Craig Johnson saying other authors warned him not to give Walt Longmire a dog, and Craig did, saying if I have to take care of a dog, why shouldn't Walt have to?

Chantelle Aimée said...

Lesa,
LOVE the blog today! I agree with everyone. In addition to being self-centered, irresponsible, law-ignoring jerks, protagonists tend to forget their cell phones A LOT. I think if you solved the latter problem, many of the former could be helped.
Chantelle

Lesa said...

You're right, Chantelle. And, how often do people actually forget their cell phones?

Lesa said...

And, I just wanted to mention that Lily, the protagonist in Juliet Blackwell's Witchcraft mysteries, does take good care of her familiar, Oscar, who takes the form of a potbellied pig. And, it's a good thing she does, because Oscar has a heroic role in the latest mystery, Hexes and Hemlines. So, she knows what she's talking about when she agrees that people shouldn't just forget they have kids or pets (or familiars).

Writing PI said...

Great blog topic. One of my pet peeves occurred in a book I recently read...a guy walking late at night (with the help of a cane) nearly gets run over by a speeding car...yet, miraculously, as the guy's falling he MEMORIZES the license plate number!

It was a pivotal point in the mystery -- without that license plate number, the protagonist wouldn't have been able to track the villain. But I was sorely disappointed that the license plate number was so conveniently (for the author) found out. Totally pulled me out of the story.

Deryn Collier said...

Love this topic Lesa! I could not agree more about kids and pets. I recently read a book where the mc left her 6 year old alone in the house because she was just too busy investigating something. It fit with the plot, I guess, but the mother in me could not believe she would get so caught up with the dead that she'd forget her own kids.

I guess I prefer protagonists to not have little kids- it fits more with the reason I read mysteries: to escape those ties that bind for a few hours and get swept away by a story.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Great blog topic! Recently, I read a book by one of my favorite authors in which she fell into one of my pet peeves (much to my surprise since she's usually so very good). Her MC is highly ethical (much of her characterization flows from this) and superbly commonsensical. Yet in this book, she invades the private living quarters of a house while at a party and illegally searches the belongings of a family member (not her family, but the host's). Then she hides behind the shower curtain in the tub while he comes in and urinates. Unbelievable for that character!

It's the only time in a wonderful series that she's done something like this, so I don't hod it against her. the rest of the book was great, but if I hadn't already been a fan, I'd probably have dropped it at that point.

Lesa said...

Memorizes license plates, hiding in showers - I get it why you don't like these points. Yet, Deryn is right. Many of us read mysteries to get swept away. It's when the character's lack of common sense pulls us back into reality that we get upset.

S. Connell Vondrak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
S. Connell Vondrak said...

By the number of comments, it looks like you hit a nerve. I hate when the mystery is solved in the last paragraph of the book, bringing in information never mentioned in the first 249 pages. Should we not savor the solving of the mystery over many pages, knowing where it may lead but not certain how you are going to get there?

Lesa said...

Yes, you're right, S. Connell. I agree. I hate a mystery that does that as well. I want to see the author play fair with the reader. I don't want to see a surprise last paragraph that reveals all.

Lesa said...

And, I have another gripe. I just dumped a mystery I was reading - no, not Before I Go to Sleep. The MC was a wimp, let her sister bully her, as she bullied the rest of the family. Convinced her to do something she didn't want to do, against her better judgment. That was in the first 15 pages, and I decided I'm not going to put up with this and dumped the book. If the MC had enough gumption to be an amateur sleuth and investigate murders, why do they let people push them into these ridiculous situations? I know. Here we go with that suspension of disbelief. Cozy mysteries have to have some way for the sleuth to become involved. But, I want something that makes sense, as in the Foul Play at the PTA (reviewed tomorrow). Don't give me a wimp that everyone runs over for a MC.

Anne R. Allen said...

I ditto the praise for this topic. What annoys me most is when the sleuth knows something, but the author withholds it from the reader. I know it's done to ramp up the tension, but all it does is ramp up my annoyance.

And I have to agree with the commenter who mentioned small children. I'd rather the sleuth not have small children. When they're sleuthing, they're neglecting the kids, but I'm rooting for the sleuthing--and getting back to the plot--so I'm guilty of promoting child neglect. Don't put me there!

Lesa said...

Love that, Anne. You're "guilty of promoting child neglect." It's all the author's fault! I have seen some authors handle it well, making the protection of their children part of the reason for their sleuthing. Sometimes it does work.

kathy d. said...

I agree with nearly all of these pet peeves.

It is annoying when the main character does something very stupid and obvious, as is mentioned, like meeting someone at 3 a.m. by herself in a deserted area. Really!

I am put off by main characters who dress beautifully, wear heels, know five languages, karate, how to shoot a gun, etc.

How about just regular people? One reason I like Ruth Galloway in Elly Griffiths' mysteries, which are set on the Eastern coast of England, is that she is a normal person, a middle-aged professor who isn't armed, isn't glamorous, doesn't know how to defend herself, just runs into murders and helps solve them. (And has a complex private life.)

And I cannot stand gratuitous violence, especially against women, and additionally, against or children or animals. Why can't an author just say what happened without elaborating on the sadism? (I'm in the thick of a Nero Wolfe binge, and those books are tight, well-written, hilarious gems. Violence is nearly always off the page.)

Same is true with Donna Leon's books set in Venice. Well-done, thoughtful, good plots and characters. Barely any on-page violence.

And I don't like covers with violence against women depicted, which publishers seem to request of designers. (Ugh!)

And I also don't like books with the psychopathic killer's thoughts imbedded. Who cares? We want to like the characters (or I do, or at least like the ptotagonist.)

L.J. Sellers said...

I avoid most books that seem certain to include TSTL moments and sleuths who are really not equipped to solve crimes. But I do get occasionally annoyed with characters who stop for sex when everything around them is going to hell. :)

bvalo said...

I am also annoyed by what I call "gratuitous smart mouth"--sleuths who complicate their situations by their need to retort in a way most people would not. One very well-known and well-liked writer includes so much of this that I've quit reading her book. Let's think before we speak, shall we, protags?

Melissa Dymock said...

I just read a book where the protagonist suspects her ex-husband of searching through her home and rifling through her belongings.

So instead of allowing him up next time he comes by, she meets him in the lobby of her apartment. Smart, right? But then he tells her he needs something out of the apartment and so she hands him her PURSE to hold while she runs up and gets it. Because purses are so heavy.

Also, she went into empty houses, hid things from the police, and had an affair when her lawyer told her that would jeopardize her custody.

bvalo said...

Melissa, she sounds TSTL!

Lesa said...

TSTL - Does too stupid to live sum up most of the people we don't like? Allowing themselves to take stupid chances, fall into risky situations. And, I agree with you, Kathy, about too much violence against women and children. I don't like women in jeopardy novels, and I seldom read them.

But, L.J., yours is the one that made me laugh - stopping to have sex when everything is going to hell around them. Love that complaint!

Mark said...

It annoys me when a character calls our MC and says, "I have something important to tell you, but not over the phone. Meet me at X in an hour." You just know the character will be dead.

However, my number one pet peeve goes along with something that has already been mentioned. I can't stand it when the only reason we find the killer is because the killer confronts the main killer face to face to kill them. I need my main character to detect who the villain is, even if it's only a paragraph before the killer attempts to kill them. I don't mind a long scene between them where the main character distracts them and gets away, however.

Mack said...

Variation on Mark's peeve:
MC has really important, crucial evidence, puts it in his desk, goes off. When that happens you know that the bad guy or his henchmen will break in and steal it.

Lesa said...

Thanks, Mark & Mack. I love getting everyone's take on where mysteries go wrong. Love these pet peeves. Thanks for taking part! I hope there are a few mystery authors out there reading this.

Silversongbird said...

I have several, including the sex thing and the sex is ALWAYS stupendous. Easy to avoid. Usually lasts three pages, turn 3 times and get on with the story. Don't like books where author is obviously in love with the hero. Where the protagonist keeps going on little food running around like a thing possessed for 48 hours without sleep. Mouthy one-liner detectives who always make the baddie react just how they want them to. So many threads in the plot that I go cross-eyed because you know that it is going to stretch coincidence to a ridiculous degree when they all converge. When a normally intelligent detective fails to pick up on something so obvious that it stands out like a camel in a hen house.

Lesa said...

Love all your comments, Silversongbird. I agree with you on those. And, as someone who does like food, I love the one with the protagonist running around for 48 hours with little food and no sleep. You're right!

bookdout said...

I am willing to suspend belief to a point but too many plot conveniences will drive me insane, as will the TSTL heroines.
One of my chief annoyances is probably petty but I hate it when the detective in a contemporary story ignores technology - mobile phones, google, laptops, GPS, digital cameras - all things most ordinary people have access to (even amateur sleuths) and real investigators wouldn't be caught without!

Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
www.bookdout.wordpress.com

Kaye said...

Pet peeves about mysteries seem to be around a common theme - improbability and TSTL characters. You're right - why would a woman venture out to meet a suspect in the middle of the night in a remote place? How dumb is that? It annoys me to no end. I just want to reach into the pages and give them a dummy slap!! I just finished Now You Don't by Roma Greth and the protag agreed to meet an unknown person at the mausoleum at 2 AM. Now, seriously, don't you think something nasty is going to happen? Sheesh!

Sara Thompson said...

I had followed a series that I rather liked but stopped reading after awhile. The MC was kind of sarcastic which was fun but each book had the same jokes over and over. The author rehashed stories told in previous books which became boring. The MC's parents had died prior to the first book and every book told of how they died (mostly in a sentence or two) but it lots it's appeal. The last book I read was so awful with the retelling of old stories and puns that I barely cared about the current mystery.
Another thing I hate is when the author has weird time lines or changes tones in the middle of the series. I followed one and the last book had a very violent torture scene in the beginning of the book even though none of her books had had graphic violence and then the victim was raped. She underwent therapy and was cured days after returning home. It was insulting. (especially when the therapy involved her being forced to have sex with her boyfriend/fiance).

Lynn Farris said...

I love Stuart Woods, but it is a male fantasy. In his books some young beautiful model "hooks up" with him for sex. Yea right a middle age man.

My other big pet peeve is book covers. Each genre has a look and the cover should reflect what is in the book. I get crazy when the cover contradicts the story.

kathy d. said...

I do not like books where the main character is male and the only women characters are objectified or the main character has a crush on or has a fling with, i.e., no realistic women who work for a living, are competent and smart -- regular people.

Also, I can't stand violence against animals. I just read a book with a description of violence against a young kitten (yes, and as a friend says, we're pathological -- in a good way -- about cats), I liked the book but was ready to dislike all of the characters and the authors at that moment. It turned out that didn't happen. Whew!