Three great crime and thriller cliches
February 5th, 2013
I love thrillers and crime. Maybe it’s because I don’t write in that genre. But I am getting increasingly frustrated by three cliches, which I see over and over again. Every crime or thriller writer seems to do them.
1) There is a murder. This is followed by a trail of other related murders, mostly because the murderer discovers that someone is getting close to the truth. We never, ever see this in real life. There are one-off murders, gang murders, serial murders, family murders and mass killings. But I have never, in all my years of reading the newspapers, read about a single reported case in real life where multiple deaths are a consequence of each other. Could we bring this plot device to an end now?
2) There is a burial scene. Over an open grave. Everyone is wearing black. People – the murderer, the detective, the person who knows the deadly secret and will therefore be murdered next (see above) – are darting or lurking amongst the gravestones. Enough already! Most people are cremated these days. Many graveyards will not accept new bodies, except in special circumstances. The only ‘ashes to ashes’ scene I have ever actually experienced personally was for a ‘natural woodland burial.’ Please, please, thriller and crime writers, could we have these scenes in crematoria, or in woodland burial grounds? No more Highgate cemetery and black top hats, unless it’s a historical novel.
3) A vulnerable person, often a woman or the heroine, is on the run. Or has received a threat. But she never closes her curtains! She may have changed her identity, run away from somewhere or someone, dyed her hair or covered her tracks in a million other ways, so how likely is it that she would go into a house, turn on all the lights and spend the evening with the curtains open? Real people have curtains. They always draw those curtains or pull down the blinds, especially if they are frightened, except in very deserted countryside. People on the run are particularly careful about such things. Aargh. No more fully lit windows, please. There must be another way.
Of course, crime and thriller is a fantasy genre. It’s not meant to be real. But does it have to be quite so unreal in these three respects? What do you think? Are there cliches that are driving you mad?
PS Oh, and that park bench. The one where you meet the man with the dodgy hat. You sit down next to him – in full view of everyone – and you both talk out of the sides of your mouths, then leave a newspaper for him to pick up. Anyone up to a mile away could spot the meeting and identify both parties. Could the security services please enlighten me here? Why a park bench? Why not a crowded bar, cafe or train where you could brush past anyone accidentally? Is this more about the director wanting some lovely scenic shots than it is about meeting someone discreetly where no-one can see?