The Problem with Comedic Crime

Here is a guest post I did for the lovely damp pebbles website  where I explain the problem with comedic crime.

Here are two things you should know about me:

  1. I write ‘comedic crime’
  2. I hate ‘comedic crime’

To be clear, I mean the phrase and not the unfairly-maligned sub-genre.

‘Comedic crime’ is just an awful name. It doesn’t bring to mind the genius of someone like Christopher Brookmyre or Carl Hiassen does it? No, instead it inspires the image of three clowns trying to break into a pie factory with a ladder they are very bad at carrying. As stomach-churning two-word combos go, it ranks right up there with ‘improvisational dance’ and ‘experimental cooking’.

My wife and I have spent more time than I’d care to admit debating alternatives ways to describe my debut novel A Man with One of Those Faces. For a while there, she was very keen on ‘crime with a twist’ but I couldn’t get on board. I’m first and foremost an avid reader of crime fiction, as I’m guessing you are too. As we both know, all crime has a twist – or if it doesn’t, we as readers are going to get very annoyed. We love a whodunit, a howdunit or a whydunit, but none of us are big fans of a yep-as-stated-in-the-opening-chapter-that-fella-dun-it-in-the-method-determined-for-the-motives-predicted.

Intent is key – both for characters and indeed for an author. Looking back on all my obsessive consumption of the many flavours of humorous crime over the years, I think that’s the one big lesson I learnt. Crime fiction of all ilks is primarily driven by plot. Things happen, they have consequences, characters make big decisions. As an author, you have to always make sure that your plot is driving your story forward. If you allow your characters to wander away from it in order for you to just squeeze in that punchline you’ve thought up, the reader will sense it. If you aren’t taking your story seriously, why should anyone else?

The odd thing about the aversion to comedic crime amongst some readers, is that it doesn’t extend to other areas. The Sherlock TV series is brilliant but it does mix in a fair dollop of comedy with the action. Many of the works of Quentin Tarantino could be most accurately described as ‘comedic crime’ too. Nobody does that though, do they? No, in fact, come to think of it, isn’t it amazing how early in his career ‘Tarantinoesque’ became a thing? Forget awards, forget box office receipts, you know you’ve really made it when you’re an adjective. (side note: I don’t suppose anyone would fancy trying to make Caimhian a thing? No, thought not.)

So, to come back to my original point, I guess ‘comedic crime’ has an image problem, in my head at least. The next time you hear it though, do me a favour; don’t think of those three clowns trying to break into a pie factory with a ladder they’re very bad of carrying. Instead, try and picture two clowns tied up in the backseat of a car being driven at breakneck speed towards a cliff by a gun-totting madman. Where’s the third clown you ask? He’s already dead in the boot. Actions have consequences and comedy, like crime, is a very serious business.

Check out the awesome Damp Pebbles website here.

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