Today my guest blogger, reader/reviewer/judge P.J. Coldren, has some complaints. Constructive ones, of course, so listen up, authors!

For my last guest blog, I'm going to do something I don't normally do. I'm gonna gripe. I've been reading mysteries for a bloody long time, and there are some things that really irritate the crap outa me.

I know that as readers we don't want to be bored with the minutia of daily life. In fact, that's one thing that annoys me - the long descriptive scenes where we learn every turn the driver took going from here to there, complete with street names and commentary on the flora and fauna. On the other hand, how many times have you read a book where the main character NEVER goes to the bathroom? Or eats. Or pays bills. I find this particularly annoying when the main character is a single (or married) woman with children, anyone running a small business, anyone who works a "real" job outside of whatever detecting they happen to be doing. I can usually suspend this need for reality in conspiracy thrillers and the like, but in cozy novels where the main character is theoretically someone rather like me (generalizing like mad here) - gimme a pottie break once in a while, or at least a mental nod to the fact that there's gonna be a big problem if the main character doesn't find a rest room soon.

What else? I'm a woman in my middle fifties. I've had my share of romantic mistakes, done my share of stupid things. I'd like to think I've learned from at least some of these life experiences. So I get pretty fed up with the TSTL (too stupid to live) character, particularly if she's (and it's almost always a woman, folks) in a series. How many times can anyone NOT call the police when they find some evidence? How many times can they go to meet a suspect without arranging for some kind of back-up? How many times can they date someone who is so clearly WRONG for them? OK, I'll take that one back. We all know people who have the most amazing track record for stupid love choices. And most of them aren't even famous.

I'm also tired of the main character that's a drunk. An unrecovered alcoholic. A lush. Whatever. And who still manages to stumble through a mystery novel and solve the mystery. The police can't do it. But this drunk, who usually manages to get the crap beaten out of him (and again, most of them tend to be male, but not always) with startling regularity, has the most amazing insights, puts all the pieces together, tracks down the killer. Yes, I know there are functional alcoholics. Yes, I've read Lawrence Block. Most people can't write like he can.

And another thing. I know I'm getting petty here. How many books have you read where the names all start with the same letter? Or all end in "y" or 'ie" - Tony, Mary, Sally, Freddie, Sammie? And there are lots of them. There have been times when I've kept a little sheet of paper with the book, matching names with identifiers so I have some idea who is who. Books with soap opera plots, where everyone is connected to everyone else, can make me nuts. If I have to draw diagrams to keep track, I'm probably not going to finish the book.

I'm sure if I really worked at it, I could come up with lots more. Bad plots. Lousy dialogue. Books in which homonym errors abound - doesn't anyone know the difference between reign, rein, and rain anymore? Or thorough, through, and threw? Books by big name authors where it's become painfully obvious that nobody is willing to say, "You need to cut this by a thousand words or so." Books where the editorializing outshines everything else. Authors with an agenda who don't know how to be subtle - now there's something guaranteed to make me unhappy. Now that I've vented, I'd like to know what ticks you off? What makes you put a book down, or not read an author anymore?

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Comment by I. J. Parker on January 29, 2009 at 8:24am
I have nothing against alcoholic heroes either. Ken Bruen writes a great series featuring Jack Taylor. That sort of thing creates vulnerability and makes for a fascinating character.

On the other hand, going to the bathroom doesn't belong into a book unless it is relevant for more that the fact that we all go to the bathroom at some time or other.
Comment by Dana King on January 29, 2009 at 4:05am
The alcoholic hero. Definitely. It can be in his background (Dave Robicheaux for example) but it can't run his life and expect me to believe the character can still solve the problems placed before him.

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