The recent discussion going on in John's 'The Ending' spot brings up an interesting question.

So you're standing in the bookstore and there are three detective novels you're seriously considering to puchase. You can only buy one. One books totes itself as being 'The next great Nero Wolfe or Ellery Queen!" A genuine puzzle in the traditionalist's style of writing.

The second is a new James Patterson serial-killer. One of his better ones.

The third is a book who has an anti-hero of less than admirable qualities, a villain who is truly dispicable, and an ending which is not really an ending but more like the beginning of the second book in the series.

Which kind of reader are you. You like classic whodunits? Serial-killer modern? Or anti-hero bastards?

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Comment by Dana King on July 1, 2009 at 1:52am
A character can be charming, but the tone of the book should be appropriate to the subject matter, and, as IJ points out, ain't nothing charming about murder. I like books that have humor in them, too, but I have a problem with "funny" murder mysteries. I just don't get Marsdhall Karp, in large part because he likes to make light of the murders, which I just can't get comfortable with. Chandler wrote "It is not funny that a man should be killed, but it is sometimes funny that he should be killed for so little, and that his death should be the coin of what we call civilization." This allows a lot of dark humor, or whistling through the graveyard humor, but not laughter over the loss of life.
Comment by I. J. Parker on July 1, 2009 at 12:42am
Charm is really hard to come by in a book about murder. And if charm plays a major role, then generally the author implies that murder isn't really all that bad since it adds a little spice to life and allows the assorted oddballs in the village to come out and interact.
The only way this actually works is in the Mma Ramotswe novels by Alexander McCall Smith, but there we have relatively minor crimes or offenses, and serious subjects (Aids) are treated respectfully and without resorting to charm.
Comment by Ann Littlewood on June 30, 2009 at 11:04am
I'm looking for charm and a window into a world I don't know. That would not include guys being mean to each other. The puzzle counts, but I'm not going to wade through gore to get to it. (That's enough negatives, no?) I'd take a look at the Wolfe/Queen knock-off and maybe see what other options are out there.
Comment by John McFetridge on June 30, 2009 at 10:41am
I'm also not interested in the puzzle at all. Oh, I can put up with it for half an hour on Law and Order until the legal moral dilemma kicks in or maybe for a whole hour on some other shows, but it's not what I'm looking for in a book.

I'm also not interested in serial killers. Or really any story in which one of the main characters is insane. As a writer said to me recently when looking for a character motivation, "Crazy doesn't need a reason." I find using crazy is a cheat. And I think all serial killers are insane in one way or another.

And, I have to admit, I'm not interested in the anti-hero and despicable villian.

Like IJ, I prefer the police procedural. I prefer mine not only to be rooted in reality but in a common reality, not a "one in a million," situation. I like my bad guys to be professional criminals and my heroes to be professionals.

The book that got me interested in crime fiction was Elmore Leonard's Swag. It isn't any of the three types you listed. It's just a novel in which some of the characters commit crimes - the same way some of the characters in other books might be college professors.

It's kind of like the movie Bull Durham. It's a sports movie, sure, but nothing in it hinges on, "the big game."
Comment by Dana King on June 30, 2009 at 10:01am
I second IJ's list above. I'm also a sucker for a good, well-written PI story.
Comment by I. J. Parker on June 30, 2009 at 8:23am
None of the above. I like police procedurals or general crime novels with a flawed but essentially sympathetic protagonist -- like Wallander, Frost, Morse, Jack Taylor, Charlie Resnick, Mick Haller, etc.
Comment by Pepper Smith on June 30, 2009 at 7:33am
Oh, I hate it when they cheat! An author who cheats has likely gotten the last of my money once I've finished their book.

I do like whodunits in visual format, but I also like being able to look back at an earlier place in the book to see where a character changed their story, or where something happened that turned out to be vital at a later point in the narrative.
Comment by Dana King on June 30, 2009 at 7:22am
I like whodunits much better in movies than in novels. I think it's because the movie lets me get caught up in real time, so I'm thinking along with the plot developments. In a book, I'm into the writing more, there's more time to think, which makes most authors do one of two things: either make me have to think so much it distracts me from the characters and writing (which takes me away from the fictional dream I like to get into when i read), or they cheat, which I hate.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on June 30, 2009 at 6:24am
I kinda wonder just how large the audience is for the classic whodunit puzzle. My gut tells me there is a huge one waiting for something to come alonng. Yet gee whillikers. . . this will come as a shocker . . . but I have been wrong ibefore.
Comment by Pepper Smith on June 30, 2009 at 6:19am
LOL! Give me the classic whodunit. I have no interest in serial killers, and I'm not all that enamored with the "he's bad, but he's not as bad as the villain" subgenre.

I'm iffy about the endings. If I feel sufficient reason was established for the villain doing what he/she did, I don't mind that much if they get away in the end, as long as the puzzle was solved.

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