gerald so's post about the sarah connor chronicles being humorless got me to thinking about humor in crime fiction and thrillers. i like it if done well. i don't think i'll ever forget that great line in stephen king's firestarter when the daughter, seeing her dad for the first time in weeks says, "Daddy, you're fat!" i've been thinking of humor a lot lately, because my writing tends to get too dark. i read a ton of crime fiction for international thriller writers a couple of years ago, and very few had even the faintest hint of humor. strange, because mystery and crime fiction writers are some of the funniest people i know. makes me wonder if humor is just too risky. does it make the book seem smaller perhaps? who writes serious thrillers or crime fiction with a touch of humor?

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Lots of people. R.D.Wingfield and Colin Dexter. Ken Bruen in his Jack Taylor novels (I don't count his hardboiled crime novels because there the humor grates very badly for me). Shakespeare. Humor in a serious book helps the author manipulate reader reaction to the tragic or shocking sections, or to humanize the protagonist, or to comment on the human condition.
Yup. There's a lot of humor in crime fiction - some of the humor is more situational, some writers go for the knee-slappers (I like those less, except for Donna Moore's Go To Helena Handbasket). Ken Bruen, Duane Swierczynski, Christa Faust, Stuart MacBride are a few that spring to mind. Humor is part of what makes up most folks, keeps us going through the really dark shit. Okay, not nearly as eloquent as Ingrid's answer, but you get the idea.
I can't do humor. I can't even do it in real life. I'm the person telling a joke who gets to the punchline and everyone else's eyes are glazed over. So I don't even attempt it in fiction. If it comes out in a story, it's a total accident!

I can't think of any authors off the top of my head who haven't already been named (other than the greats... you know, Ed McBain, Joseph Wambaugh). Let me think on it more (though I'm sure by then, other comments wil name them).
Oh...where to start...:o) I love humour in crime fiction - from the out and out hilarious such as Bill Fitzhugh or Mark Haskell Smith or Christopher Moore, to the dark, warped and twistedly funny that you feel bad about laughing at but still do such as Al Guthrie, or Warren Ellis, or Ken Bruen, to the sly and wry such as Ruth Dudley Edwards or Colin Watson or Donald Westlake, I love 'em all :o)

Nobody lives a completely humourless life, so books that are totally without humour just don't do it for me. I think that's one of the reasons I'm not overkeen on serial killers or psychological suspense - they tend to take themselves TOO seriously sometimes. A book can touch on serious themes and be dark, but a little humourous touch can work wonders - and often serves to underline the seriousness and give it more impact.

Since you specifically mention 'serious' crime fiction with a touch of humour I'll reluctantly skip mentioning the obviously funny and suggest some of my favourite 'lightened by humour' authors. I am probably going to sound warped but I find Jim Thompson hilarious. Or Daniel Woodrell, Charles Willeford, Raymond Chandler, Barbara Seranella, Ray Banks, Scott Phillips. Or how about Joe Lansdale? His Hap and Leonard series is very funny, but his standalones are quite dark. Despite that there are some wonderful flashes of humour.

I'd better stop there :o)
Dean Koontz is funny. I thought By the Light of the Moon was hilarious, sort of a parody of technothrillers.

And my man Stephen King. Lots of LOL moments in Firestarter, and his other books. People who have only seen the movies are missing most of the humor in his work.
Dean Koontz Odd Thomas series is fun too. He really gets into the head of his 21-yr old short order cook who sees dead people. What a charming character.
I write crime fiction--and adding more of the thriller slant in this next series. I find that I can't do without humor because it's so much a part of everyday life...and part of me. Take time to listen to everyday conversation and people can be downright funny, especially if they're unguarded.

And crime scenes can be full of cynical humor to allow cops to deal with what they see. Since I use humor as a defense mechanism when things get tough personally, I write characters who do the same. My agent just read my first book in this new series and made a specific comment that she loved the humor. I had used humor in my other books, but ramped it up in this newest one and it seemed to work for this group of characters. I was glad she noticed it.

Having said that, I think you have to really edit yourself. Some humor doesn't make the edit cut. You have to remember that your character's personalities are reflected in this humor so if they seem callous or too flip to the reader, that will be a detriment. I use a subtle brand of humor in unexpected spots and find that "less is more" and timing is everything. Sometimes it's actions, sometimes it's dialogue between two characters that have great chemistry. I'm not after the laugh out loud Janet Evanovich stuff, but rather the soft chuckle of a well-delivered simple line from Robert Crais works for me.
Chris Grabenstein writes thrilling mysteries with a lot of humor. Craig Johnson's books have a very dry sense of humor that I find really enjoyable.
Elmore Leonard is the master of letting the humor come naturally to the scene; so was Ed McBain. Chandler was funny, as are Robert Crais, John Connolly, Robert B. Parker (more so in his earlier books.) Of course there's Carl Hiaasen, but many may consider him a humor writer who uses crime than a crime writer who uses humor.

I agree with a couple of comments, humor is a part of life, it needs to be in there to lend verisimilitude to the writing. Two caveats: it has to be appropriate. There's only so much cracking wise in the face of death anyone can tolerate. And, often overlooked, if you're going to add humor, it actually has to be funny. It's a killer to read something, then sit back and think, "I'll bet the author thought that was funny."
thanks for all of the great comments! i can see i need to do some shopping!

donna, i agree that most serial killer books and psychological suspense tends to be pretty serious. one exception i can think of is JA Konrath.

jordan, i find i often remove the humor during editing because it just doesn't work. like my topic title. so bad. :D :D
If the humor doesn't work, blame the character. Works for me.
There are books with serial killers in which have a good vein of humour running through and, as a couple of people have said, it has to be appropriate to the book. Mark Billingham for instance - his books are serious, but he uses humour really well. It lightens the atmosphere and tells you things about the characters. My taste in humour runs the gamut. I love the laugh out loud stuff but also the subtle 'less is more' approach that Jordan mentioned. J A Konrath is one who DOESN'T work for me.

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