Norm in a recent post at Crime Scraps, Critical Perspicacity: Six Things listed six things he looks for in crime fiction and six things he doesn't like. This got me thinking and here's the result.
Six things I look for in crime fiction:
Originality - this can come from many things, including sometimes, just simply the author's voice. Cue Yrsa Sigurðardóttir for that last one; although Last Rituals had plenty of originality for me, it's the author's voice that drew me in the most.
Suspense - without it there's little point in turning the pages. Before the festive break, I dumped a book on page 124 because by then, if it had ever tried to have any suspense, it had run out of steam. I had even forgotten why I was reading about the main character. Tom Bale's Skin and Bones made up for this; I loved the way he dropped in just one little fact occasionally. This led to the thought "What's this all about?" and a whole new series of page turning that would have got me a star badge for nimble fingers when I was at school.
Character - I look for characters that are realistic and in a key learning point in 2008 I discovered that in the right hands they don't always have to be sympathetic. Cue Andrew Wilson's The Lying Tongue for that one.
Intelligence - I prefer intelligent thought in a story and no spoon-feeding or trowel- thwack-delivered clues. I may not be Miss Marple, but I'm not a Nancy-no-Brain either.
Humour - I always maintain that we find some humour in something, almost every day of our lives. Thus, even in the darkest of crime or thriller novels, it's good to see some humour somewhere. As long as it's not misplaced.
Learning something new - This could be due to setting e.g. another country or specific workplace, or historical period. Tell me something I don't know from everyday life and I love it. (But, dear author, be careful not to go to town on all that research you so lovingly prepared in detail.)
Six things I don't like in crime fiction:
Hype - I am not the only one for whom excessive hype is an offputter. Tell me why I might enjoy the book, what I will find in it. But please don't dictate to me that it's "absolutely brilliant" and "the best read of 200x". I prefer a respectful invite to the party and not a forced eavesdropping on the over-fed and over-watered partygoers as they wend their way home in their own fog of hype.
Misleading blurbs - This is a viral problem where an author is on book two plus. The blurb will relate to an earlier book and not the one in hand, which is yet to be reviewed. Respected author so-and-so will say the book is superb, but it's not the one you're looking at, it's one from two years go. Publishers let themselves off the hook with leading comments such as "Praise for author X Y". As you can tell, I am not often misled by these blurbs, just continually annoyed by them.
The rubbish synopsis - I read one novel last year where the publisher's synopsis lost all sense of chronology in the plot and actually gave away the ending. I read one book recently where the synposis was not entirely accurate...
Over-use of research - especially on some technical matter. Something that reads like a technical journal or a set of NHS patient's notes does not necessarily add to authenticity. It can slow the plot and bore the reader.
The gorefest - Some authors seem to relish the gore factor but I don't think it's needed. Enough information to relay circumstance and impact is enough for this reader; I am happy for the author to leave the rest to my own imagination. I find detail of every slice and dice unnecessary and disturbing and I wonder about the author... But I don't read this type of book anymore. If I can avoid it.
The "Do lesbians write the most horrific crime fiction?" debate - I thought this one was dead by now, but it rears its ugly head at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival in 2009 with a whole panel session devoted to the topic. Is there an EU quota that I don't know about being milked for every last drop or euro? Boring. And I make no apologies for saying so.
Finally, I have some things in common with Norm. These were the dozen that came to my mind first, but I also agree with his list which you can see here.