I've been reading a couple of books by George Pelecanos featuring Derek Strange and Terry Quinn. Love the books and his writing, but every once in a while I found myself hung up on the number of musical references. There must be dozens, if not a hundred or more. Every scene seems to have a song playing.... He is not the first author to load his writing with so many references. (Peter Robinson and Ian Rankin are two others that leap to mind). My question is, when does it become too much? Does a book need a soundtrack? And when the narrator is first person, does it detract from reality when he seems to recognize every song he hears, no matter what the genre?

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Frankly, I've hated that, too. In both Rankin and Robinson. I think it is overdone. Strangely enough, Morse's listening to classical music was never this intrusive.
Hi Howard,

I laughed at your post because it reminds me of a movie I caught the other night. I like musicals (sometimes) but this movie wasn't a musical yet every time you turned around the characters broke off into silly dream sequences with them dancing and singing. I think it was supposed to be a black comedy because it was about a murder too, but the film missed the mark. Anyway...

Your question, when does it get to be too much? As a reader, whenever you've had enough. Readers have to make that call. If you find all this music distracting then it's stopping you from enjoying the story. It's just like a book I last read by this so-called BIG crime writer. It was just walls and walls of needless description. It was so ridiculous. Instead of having his characters show up in places, he'd write the entire driving trip, naming the freeways, the expressways, the turns and street signs. I was like, "Kill me please!" by the time the character got to his fourth trip through the city. I was so sick of that. I mean why would anyone think a reader wants to sit through your characters driving everywhere they go and you describing everything you pass on the way? Please! Talk about filler.

I was frustrated and peed off because the book took away days of my life I couldn't get back. So I finally dumped it. I'd had enough. The so-called murder mystery wasn't enthralling enough to keep me reading anyway. So I feel you on "when is it too much?"

About first person books, I avoid them like the plague anyway. First person books always read like some diary and I don't like that. I also don't want to follow the same boring person the entire book. But from the first person books I've read, I gotta say I noticed what you mentioned too. The MC will mention every sound and everything he sees even if it's not important. It takes away from the story. I find first person also has way too may inner thought moments and leave me screaming, "Get to the point already!" Now I don't even try first person books.

To me first person is like dating a certain type of person a while, keep giving them chances and they never live up to the expectations. Then you gotta say one day, "You're just not my type." LOL!

Best Wishes!

Thanks, Stacy. I suppose this is a good time to confess my first two books are first person. Though I try to keep to the story....
Don't worry, Howard. A lot of people like first person. Not everyone sees it as a bad date.
Hi Stacy,

LOL LOL LOL for you too!!

This sentence slayed me: "It was just walls and walls of needless description. It was so ridiculous. Instead of having his characters show up in places, he'd write the entire driving trip, naming the freeways, the expressways, the turns and street signs."

I don't mind if it can be wrapped up in a few sentences or a pargraph. But yeah, I once read a book where the character took a13 hour drive and it was written almost in real time (100's of pages). At that point you just skim until the character shows up somewhere.

But the worst crime for me is one writer who i won't mention. I read one, and only one, book that drove me out of my mind. The character literally took about a hundred walks. I stopped counting at 75 and there was still about 50 pages to go befoe it got tossed.
I'm with you. I'm reading a Pelecanos novel now (THE NIGHT GARDENER), and I like it a lot. I've read several others, and can't name one I disliked, though he doesn't resonate with me as do some other contemporary writers. I think it's all the music references. I've been willing to take the blame; as a young man I listened almost exclusively to jazz and classical, so I'm unfamiliar with virtually all the music he mentions. I know my listening habits made me the outlier. Still, after a while, the constant references become something of an obstacle to my reading.

I's a reflection of how good he is that I continue to read him. The man can write.
I've noticed the same thing occasionally when reading George Pelecanos. Stephen King uses a lot of music references too.

I think references to popular culture in general are tricky. It works well when handled skillfully, but can definitely be intrusive if over used or handled in a clumsy manner.

Similarly, I love Robert Crais books. However, every once in a while, Elvis Cole will say something, and it jars me out of the book - I actually think, "he's trying to prove he's young at heart or something." It shouldn't do that.
Hey Howard,

LOL LOL LOL Wow. I thought it was only James Patterson who did this!! I read one of his books and thought that there was no bleepin' way that these characters know half of these bands. It read like he picked up an issue of Rolling Stone and put everything he could into it.

Yes, when it reaches a hundred or more I would say that's too much. But even 50 I can see getting to be too much. i guess it all depends how its dispersed throughout the novel.

No first person is no big deal for me. But you live by the sword and you die by that sword. If people love the character you can do no wrong. If the people aren't into it then you are stuck because you can't cut away unless you combine 1st persona dn 3rd person narrative, which might only confuse a reader all the more.


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