Unusual Murdering Authors

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Unusual Murdering Authors

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Editat: oct. 18, 2015, 5:11pm

Let me be frank (must be channeling Richard Ford), when it comes to murder mysteries and me, the reading relationship is -- in a word -- "Blehh." I don't usually read 'em 'cause I don't usually like 'em. And I like them a lot less when the author goes to extreeeemes in killing off the victim(s), whether by bizarre circumstances, phooey death scenes, or overly exotic murder weapons.

For instance, an author whose mundane mysteries are available all over the Internet, Tyler Dilts, writes about the usual disgruntled lonely detective who blah. . .blah. . .blah, in what has become the Long Beach Homicide series. It was my misfortune to read The King of Infinite Space, probably his first novel to hit the reading devices, but no "Hamlet." Without resorting to spoilers, the only remotely original bit in the book was the murder weapon, which I don't remember the name of exactly. Suffice to say it belonged in the same class of hard to find knives as a Kangbantuli, or a Malay Dyak mandau, or a Micronesian opi, all of which I had to look up.

Then there are ludicrous death scenes. Probably the most famous of which is the double homicide/double suicide of Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. Sheer torture to get them to go on a walk up the Alp to admire a cataract and then take the plunge. Worse torture to have Holmes fake it. If there's anything more unusual than a dead narrator in a novel, it's a novelist who brings back the dead in his next book. Spare me.

Now, when a book is meant to be humorous, a parody, satire, or remarkable fantasy, I'll accept the victim (in these cases, usually just the villain) dying under bizarre circumstances. Take for instance, death by a bucket of water -- "I'm melting!" Who knew? A forgivable mistake. And if traveling Glory Road demands Heinlein create a character only to destroy him via a death by being shoved into one's own mouth, I can swallow that. Or, if an apple a day carries the giant insect away, then maybe it takes a Kafka to get away with that kind of killing. Literary license and all.

But leave those kind of "endings" out of murder mysteries, please, authors. Just in case I pick yours up and read it.

Thanks for letting me rant, Groupies. Now it's your turn. Which murder mystery author(s) annoy you most when it comes to death scenes, their bizarreness, and the weaponry? Add a little lagniappe in your comment and tell us which murder mystery author killed off the wrong victim. (You probably thought someone else was more. . .uh. . .deserving.)

Ghoulish topics and comments are welcome this time of year.

oct. 18, 2015, 2:43pm

>1 Limelite: Delightful mini-essay and thought-starter. Thank you.

What springs immediately to mind is the crime novel or mystery in which the villain has staged a long, excruciating, often bizarre and creative, and usually symbolic or thematic demise for the hero(ine) or a special hostage. A particularly absurd one constituted the climax of The Snowman and, along with a couple of other features, turned me off Jo Nesbo for good.

But the category itself is very large and takes in everything from dark Nordic fiction to children's cartoons (the sawmill, the railroad tracks) to ancient Greek mythology.

Aside from the laborious contrivance, what's annoying about it in novels and movies is its obvious intention (a) to give the perpetrator a platform so we can hear his or her rationale for the crimes and also assure ourselves that he or she is mad or evil or both, and (b) to give the heroic character time to effect an escape or rescue, or (preferably) both.

To me that's an authorial trick devised to solve the problems of bad guy's motivation and good guy's success, and it typically does not have any integral relationship to the plot, never mind a plausible counterpart in real life. If we're watching a James Bond movie, that's about what we expect--a talky showdown scene while the rescuee dangles over a pool of piranhas or a pit of boiling lava; but when we have a fairly literary novel in hand, we anticipate something better than a B-movie stalling device while the evildoer explains everything that the hero(ine) couldn't find out or figure out.

A very similar device, as you noted, is the use of inventive means and methods of killing the original victims. Naturally the sooner the detective can say, "Gentlemen, we have a serial killer," the sooner the tension and suspense ratchet up, and for that it's really helpful to have a distinctive killing. If we were to draw conclusions from fictional murders, we might be justified in thinking that perpetrators are egomaniacal death artists who routinely leave elaborate calling cards at the site of every homicide. "He's playing a game with us." And so is the author.

oct. 18, 2015, 3:55pm

I cannot go to a theater to see a thriller w/o bringing duct tape for my mouth. I just have to scream out when the villain is down but not out and the hero stands there like a patient teacher listening to a slow pupil, "Can't we all just shut up and shoot him, fer gawd's sake? We wanna go home."

Thank goodness I read all of Agatha Christie as a kid. It wasn't her way of murdering them that was tiresome, it was the Assembly Hall endings where the Orator, whether Miss Marple, or Hercule Poirot, delivered the lecture that reveals the killer -- after eliminating all the red herrings. I did like how she didn't confine the bad guy role to a guy, but created lots of female naughty-naughties.

Last of all, I want my murder mysteries to be murder mysteries and my ghost stories to be ghost stories. I have an aversion to the dead telling their own stories, a motif that has become increasingly popular in general fiction and in murder mysteries such as The Lovely Bones and films such as "American Beauty." However, it's a lot better than stories of and "by" the undead that have been as common as flies the last 20 years. Anne Rice will have to explain herself to her Maker for starting that fad.

oct. 18, 2015, 4:07pm

>3 Limelite: the Assembly Hall endings where the Orator . . . delivered the lecture that reveals the killer -- after eliminating all the red herrings.

Same with Nero Wolfe. I did grow to love it, though, as a predictable and satisfying wrap-up--the very assurance that King was talking about.

I abandoned Colin Cotterill after one novel because I couldn't stand having a detective use ghosts as the source of information in a story that was not otherwise based in the supernatural. That was also one of the gimmicks I hated in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I love stories of magic and the supernatural, but if authors don't keep their worlds straight and abide by their own rules, I have no patience for them.

Editat: oct. 18, 2015, 5:27pm

We are souls off the same "shoe."

Jo Nesbo is awful.

Edgar Sawtelle was, too.

But not all in life is lemons, not all drinks are lemonade. It happened, in an odd mood that has never struck me again, that I picked up a murder mystery for the Christmas Season. Yep, a born interest killer. Turns out, the book was surprisingly good, an intelligent and complex story more about family relationships played out against a background of dead baby walled up in an old house and more bloody mayhem along those famous English canals.

Evidently the author has a devoted following (I can see why) and her series about married law enforcement officers and their blended family is popular. The book is Water Like a Stone by Deborah Crombie. I read it as an audiobook. Have you read her?

oct. 18, 2015, 5:53pm

>6 Meredy: I haven't, but I'll certainly take a look. Audiobooks are not for me, though: the color and texture of the words on the page are part of the reading experience for me.

Last Christmastime I enjoyed Mystery in White, definitely not something to rave about but good for wintry mood and atmosphere. That's about the only way I get a breath of snow any more.

oct. 18, 2015, 5:53pm

>4 Meredy: Same with Nero Wolfe. I did grow to love it, though, as a predictable and satisfying wrap-up--the very assurance that King was talking about.

The appeal of Nero Wolfe, in my mind, is the conceit of being able to solve the mystery without ever leaving his armchair. In fact, my least-favorite books in the series are the ones where he is forced out of the house for whatever reason, and thus not in his element.

But my least favorite mystery writers are those who have become predictable in their craft -- this tends to bug me more than exotic or outrageous denouements. I gave up on Tony Hillerman, for example, despite the appeal of the Navaho culture, because his bad guys never seemed to make it to a court room, but instead were sure to die in the goriest and most symbolic way possible. And I stopped reading Elizabeth George when I realized I a guessed the murderer not because of any clues, but simply because one character had her favorite kind of motive. (It never seemed to be about money with her).

As for murder mysteries I like, Michael Dibdin has a couple. He's known for his Aurelio Zen series, but I really like some of his stand alone novels. And believe it or now, the French writer Sebastien Japrisot has a couple very compelling mysteries that are good both in terms of plot and in zeroing in on that strange impulse within us that makes us do bad things. The Lady in the Car with the Glasses and the Gun is a good example.

oct. 19, 2015, 11:49am

The mysteries and thriller genre is probably the one I'm least familiar with, although I have always enjoyed and still like Agatha Christie. A couple of years ago I read Mystery of the Yellow Room which wasn't an all-bad novel by the creator of the Phantom of the Opera. And I've heard good things about a mystery author who went down with the Titanic, but before his death wrote a number of short stories about The Thinking Machine, including the frequently anthologized story "The Problem of Cell 13".

oct. 19, 2015, 1:27pm

She may be nearing the end of her writing life, perhaps she already has. But to me she is an honest and "earned" murder mystery writer. The only one whose book I actively enjoy in this genre. And I love her setting.

Still, I kinda wish she'd off a victim by having a gondolier hold him under in the waters of the GRAND CANAL with his oar, while singing a Neopolitan love song.

Guess who!

Editat: oct. 20, 2015, 10:21am

I'm surprised (well, maybe a little bit) that no one has mentioned one of the most murderous authors in all of English, ole Billy boy hissef. If you like gore for its own sake there's Titus Andronicus. For just plain murder, take your pick of some of the finest murderous writing of all times, any of his tragedies. Take King Lear or Macbeth out for a spin. Kick the tires on Hamlet or Antony and Cleopatra to see if they hold up. This is just a small sample of the mayhem the Master creates.

Of course, waiting in the weeds are the big three of the ancients: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and the master of terror, Euripides. Literary murderers all.

oct. 22, 2015, 3:05pm

>5 Limelite: You are entirely wrong. (said with a smiley face) Jo Nesbo is excellent; he's my favourite crime writer.

I read a LOT of crime fiction. Lots and lots and lots. My pet peeve is writers who leave too much to coincidence, with a secondary pet peeve of books where the character is always getting into fist fights, and always winning. The exemplar for both of these is The Alphabet House by Jussi Adler-Olsen, a writer whose works I usually enjoy, but not in this instance.

oct. 22, 2015, 3:15pm

>11 ahef1963:

Oh, good! As a person trained up in science, I love someone saying, "You're wrong!"

Why is Nesbo your fave? I've tried one Harry Hole and . . .Y A W N.

When it comes to Scandinavian/Norwegian noir, it's a non-mystery writer who's my favorite -- Per Petterson. He writes psychodramas that explore men's deep emotions while they grieve. If you haven;t read it already, may I suggest I Curse the River of Time?

oct. 23, 2015, 4:25pm

Pshah! I love gory mysteries with novel manners of dispatch. Dr. Phibes is a god to me. I even made a list of such books, Cheesy Mysteries and Odd Lots!

oct. 23, 2015, 6:14pm

>12 Limelite: I'm glad you were not offended by my declaration of your wrongness!

I have always been a fan of hardboiled detective fiction, especially of Raymond Chandler, and of very straight-forward crime writing, like Patricia Highsmith's Mr. Ripley series. I like the bold, emotionless strokes, the straight lines, the bare bones descriptions. Jo Nesbo seems to adhere in his own way to that path. I also like the very maleness of his writing, which is something that strikes me when I read Chandler and Highsmith as well. If I didn't know better, I would have guessed that the Mr. Ripley books were written by a man.

Perhaps the other thing that draws me to the Nesbo series of novels is Harry Hole himself. He'd make a terrible husband/partner, and his lack of discipline, disrepect for authority and rules, and his raging battle with alcohol are hardly turn-ons, but I like him; I imagine that he looks rather like Nesbo, who is decidely attractive to me, or at least he might look like Nesbo if the author were well and truly hung over, with a week's growth of beard and unwashed clothing. Is it the bad boy that I like? I don't know, but I would like to meet Harry.

Probably more of an answer that you needed......

I have a book by Per Petterson that I've not yet read: Out Stealing Horses. Do you think that it's a decent starting place for Petterson, or should I try the book that you recommend? I'm always glad to add to my knowledge of Scandinavian noir.

oct. 23, 2015, 8:14pm

>14 ahef1963:

You're asking a "contrary Indian" for advice? I avoid two things (kinda intentionally) in choosing the books I read: 1) Best-sellers and 2) Authors' more or most famous works.

Stupid me, I know.

Anyway, I haven't read "Out Stealing," only two of his lesser talked about books. Liked them both. Did the same with Mankell, read none of his detective fiction.

You definitely like the kinda of men no woman could live with. But he has a large heart and an over-developed value for justice. Both heroic qualities. My argument is with Nesbo, whose writing is inherently dull and not vivid. He over sets up scenes and brings the curtain down on them in staccato prose (that you eloquently describe as "manly"). Sometimes he forgets detailed info and writes later scenes in which that is betrayed to the reader who has paid close attention. But, I'm just not a fan of this genre in general.

Enjoy your Nesbo and happy reading!

oct. 27, 2015, 2:45pm

>10 geneg: That scene with Gloucester in Lear. Christ on a bike, that's horrible.