Tuesday, June 23, 2020

My Mystery Novel Pet Peeve

First, though, a similar pet peeve I always had with CHEERS.   Anytime someone would fly into Boston and want to see one of the regulars he would always have the cab driver take him to the bar.  There he would let the cab driver go and walk into Cheers with his luggage, asking whether Frasier or Diane or whoever was there.   This traveler wouldn't check into his hotel first?  He then wouldn't t call the bar to make sure Frasier or whoever was actually there?   I argued this for eleven years and never won.

Okay, that brings me to my mystery novel pet peeve.  I like to read mystery novels.   And in practically all of them, the following happens:

The detective or private eye gets a tip.  They get a name and address.  So they go there, sometimes driving for seven hours.   And sure enough, when they arrive and knock on his door, he's home.  Suspects are always home for some reason.

Yes, there are exceptions, but for the most part their person-of-interest just happens to be home.  Never do the detectives knock on the door, there's no answer, and they wait for hours.  Never is the suspect away for the weekend.

And it's a good thing too because usually the detective has someone else he has to see who's a four-hour drive away before the day is done and happily that person is home as well.

What luck!

I know it's creative license.  Unlike the CHEERS situation, you wouldn't call the person-of-interest first.  He'd bolt immediately.  But when it happens four or five times in one book I start to really get annoyed.

A number of my friends are novel writers.  I wonder if they are aware of this, if it bothers them, or if their response is "Who cares?  Get over it."

I drove seven hours to ask one of them, but he wasn't home. 


Kyle said...

And they always get a parking space right in front of the suspect's apartment building! Thet never have to spend another 7 hours circling for parking.

Lemuel said...

In the case of Mannix, no one was home, but Mannix always got conked on the head from behind.

Neal said...

"I knew I'd find you here. It's fascinating. Everyone else in the world at the end of the evening goes to their homes. You people come to this bar." - Robin Colcord

Dana King said...

Not to blow my own horn, but in the book I just completed and is awaiting publication, the cops are checking on cars possibly involved in a hit-and-run and several of the people aren't home when they stop by. Just sayin'.

Todd Everett said...

Secretary or someone rushes into the room where Important Characters are gathered.
“Quick - the tv!”
Somehow the set is already tuned to the proper channel, and the crucial story is just beginning.

workplace innovator said...

I've always wondered why TV characters at the end of a phone conversation never say good-bye.

Kevin said...

My pet peeve is when they turn that mystery novel into a movie and we have to WATCH the detectives drive to the suspect's house for several minutes.

The car driving over a bridge. The car diving through town. The detective lighting a cigarette as he changes the radio station the car. Another shot of the car winding through the mountains. The car finally pulling up to the house. The detectives walking up to the door. WE GET IT! We know how he's getting to the suspect's house! From the minute they say "Well, I better go question so & so..." we know where he's going. Just cut to the car pulling up to the house. Thank you.

mwolf said...

Life imitates art: Thanks to C19 we are all home now.

Michael said...

I am a fan of Nero Wolfe, who is ideal reading for this historical moment: he was socially distant before it was fashionable. And Archie Goodwin and the private investigators who often work with him and Wolfe--Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin, and Orrie Cather in particular--often talk about having to wait for someone they are investigating. Another reason these novels are so marvelous.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Two theories: Mystery novel writers are required to adhere to a set of standard clich├ęs and must rearrange the characters and plot lines within that framework. Much like sitcoms where every show has to have a "dumb" one, a "horney" one, an "obnoxious" one, etc.

Second, These writers only have enough material for one-third to one-half of a book. Therefore, they must pad with activities that are basically space fillers.
I've noticed that with some of the plays I've seen. Some playwrights, such as Ken, keep it moving. All the dialog is germane to the plot. Others, usually, but sadly not necessarily the amateurs, have a lot of extraneous dialog that only seems to be there to fill time.

Speaking of mystery novel's, I hear that HBO is launching a new version of "Perry Mason." It's supposed to be more like the novels by Earl Stanley Gardener than the TV show with Raymond Burr. I don't know if that's true. My mom had several of the "Perry Mason" books. I may just have to blow the dust and the silverfish off of them to see for myself.


blinky said...

Not unlike driving in Manhattan and parking right in front of the destination.

MikeN said...

I thought you were going to say the cliche is they are never at home.
I don't think I've ever seen this. It's always either the person is dead, and the detective discovers the body, or there is a relative or housekeeper who reveals key details.

Kosmo13 said...

The cliche that bugs me is slightly different. The investigator reopens an unsolved case from months... years... decades earlier and learns of a witness who should've been thoroughly interviewed but never was. The investigator rushes off to that person's last known address, but arrives just moments after the killer has murdered the witness and fled the scene. How did the killer know the case had been re-opened? If the killer was so concerned about what that person knew, why didn't the killer eliminate them a year or 20 years or 40 years ago?

The Rockford Files version of this cliche is that Jim Rockford drives to the home of someone he wants to see and arrives just as that person is being kidnapped.

Viscount Manzeppi said...

It's funny that you should mention this.

In one of my screenplays, based on a mystery novel, one of my paid reviewers pet peeves was that the detectives arrive at the suspect's office a couple of times when he isn't there, necessitating that they wait and interact with the office staff.

VincentS said...

In the case of Columbo, Hercule Poirot, Nero Wolf, et al It's that the murderers usually take place in affluent places where suspects are rich and don't have day jobs to go to, increasing the odds of them being home when the detective calls.

PolyWogg said...

They made the trip three times. They just left out the other two as it wasn't worth reading.


Erich617 said...

It's less of an issue now, since everybody is home all the time.

Dixon Steele said...

I had to laugh at the four-hour drive. So true.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

@Neal: That reminds me of a friend of mine, an Irish musician who spent a lot of time in the 1960s playing all day and evening with other musicians at this one bar in Dublin. He wrote a song about it some years back, which has a line said by the bar owner: "Do yez have no homes to go to?"


Troy McClure said...

Similar to this, if I see one more thriller in which a character arrives home and is startled by another character who's broken in and has been waiting to have a talk, I'll scream. No one does that in real life. Only burglars and murderers break into people's homes.

Staying with movies, a few years back there was a really irritating trend for characters in action and horror films to yell "Welcome to [location]" before firing a gun. I cringed when Albert Finney said "Welcome to Scotland" in Skyfall before blasting his shotgun. Ditto when the gun toting female hero in one of the Texas Chainsaws, a hitherto quiet and measured character, suddenly shouted "Welcome to Texas" at the infamous Leatherface, which doesn't even make sense because he's FROM Texas!

Who the hell ever thought "Welcome to" was a good line in a movie confrontation anyway? It's not funny, it's not badass. It's a shitty line that exposes a writer's lack of wit and imagination.

Mike Doran said...

Charlie Chan In The Secret Service, from 1944, Sidney Toler's first Chan movie for Monogram Pictures, on Hollywood's Poverty Row.
Toler had just turned 70 years old; he'd bought the screen rights to Charlie Chan and made the Monogram deal to keep the series going.
Anyway, CC In The SS has a scene, about eight minutes in, which sort of ties in with one of the peeves mentioned here.

Chan (Toler) is settling in at Secret Service HQ in Washington DC, when his Chief calls on him to investigate the murder of a top inventor (there's a war on, you know).
A cab is called, and so we see Charlie leaving his office building and being driven to the scene of the crime.
What we see onscreen:
-In the lobby of the office building (filmed silent on location), Toler crosses the lobby and exits the building.
- Once outdoors, Toler goes to the cab and gets in.
- The cab proceeds to the Big House where the crime took place.
- Once at the house, Toler exits the cab and goes to the locked gate, where guards let him in.
- At the house, Toler walks slowly to the far side to the front door, where he gains admittance.
- All of the above events take up one minute and thirty seconds of screen time - and it's all accompanied by cowboy chase music from one of Monogram's many Westerns.
That's 1:30 in a movie whose total running time is 1:04:30.
When my brother and I first saw CC In The SS on TV when we were teenagers, this cracked us both up - especially the chase music (we were an easy audience back then).
But this coming from Monogram - talk about extravagance!
SOP would have been to cut directly from Chan's office to the front door - but maybe Mono was trying to impress Sidney Toler …

D McEwan said...

In the TV series, when Perry Mason and Paul Drake arrive at the home of whomever they wasnt to talk to, the person they are there to see is home, but dead on the floor, and Perry's client is bending over the body holding the murder weapon. This happens so often that if you got a call from Perry Mason saying he wanted to come over and talk to you, your reaction should be "GOD NO!!! I'll come to your office!" No one is ever murdered in Perry's office.

Which brings up MY mystery story pet peeve, the way innocent suspects, on finding the murdered body of their worst enemy, ALWAYS feel compelled to pick up the murder weapon and get as many of their fingerprints on it as humanly possible!

"Mike Bloodworth said...
Speaking of mystery novels, I hear that HBO is launching a new version of 'Perry Mason.' It's supposed to be more like the novels by Earl Stanley Gardener than the TV show with Raymond Burr. I don't know if that's true. My mom had several of the "Perry Mason" books. I may just have to blow the dust and the silverfish off of them to see for myself.

You "hear" that HBO is launching this series? It premiered two days ago, with to the cable network's biggest series premiere ratings in two years. Mason was watched by a total of 1.7 million viewers across all platforms — that's more than the comic book "drama" Watchmen (1.5 million) or the Stephen King adaptation The Outsider (1.2 million). It was so successful a premiere that HBO has stopped calling it a "Mini-series," and are now just calling it a "series." Contracts to have a season two are probably being drawn up right this second.

But is it more like the books than the Burr TV series? Ah, I've read some of the novels, and in them, Perry Mason is a rich, successful lawyer who is idealistic and has a sense of humor, is not above bending the law but NEVER breaking it, and, when it comes to needling Tragg or Hamilton Berger, a sense of mischief, but on HBO he is a broke, depressed, private detective, haunted by his wartime experiences in France. Huh? It's like watching a Sherlock Holmes movie in which Sherlock Holmes is a lawyer.

I should add that Erle Stanley Gardner actively consulted on the TV series. Gardner would read every draft of every teleplay, and insist on the changes he felt were needed, advice that they always, always, always followed. Mind you, these notes were usually about the law, to make sure the legal maneuvering was accurate, but Gardner always saw to it that every episode of the TV series was done to his satisfaction. Gardner appeared in the final episode, playing the judge.

And many of the novels are adapted into episodes. In fact, the first season only had two original stories. They adapted 30 of the novels that one season alone. Some of the novels were adapted into episodes twice, with the title altered when they did it the second time, and some plot elements mixed up. In one twice-adapted PM novel that I had read, the first time they did it, they did it as in the book. The second time they adapted it, they changed the title and reversed who dun it and who was Perry's client. So Gardner was concerned that the series get their law right and kept the characters as he wanted them ("Perry would not do that. Too unethical" was a note Gardner often gave. They always altered it to fit with what Gardner wanted), but was OK with them monkeying around with his plots.

Sean said...

Whereas modern technology usually gets in the way of stories (everything's too easy now), I think Cheers is the one show that would have been more plausible with mobile phones. It's always a bit of a stretch that the characters' bosses/colleagues/family members call a bar to get in touch with them. And the way the phone behind the bar just happens to be close to whichever character needs to answer it. Whereas now people would just ring their mobiles.

Buttermilk Sky said...

We all had a chance to watch a real-life murder trial, O.J. Simpson's. Remember how people complained that it was so boring and repetitive, they kept stopping for sidebars and recesses, most of the witnesses weren't even charismatic or attractive? That's real life. That's why we prefer PERRY MASON. Art sort of imitating life but not too much.

Andrew said...

@D McEwan,
"This happens so often that if you got a call from Perry Mason saying he wanted to come over and talk to you, your reaction should be "GOD NO!!! I'll come to your office!"

LOL! Thanks for this.

I feel the same way in general about Hercule Poirot. If you're on a train, or in a boat, or at a dinner party, and Poirot is there, get the hell out quickly. The man has a reverse Midas touch.

Jessica Fletcher too, who probably murdered half the victims.

Frank Beans said...

Creative license to make things a bit crazy is the backbone of all novels and comedy. FRASIER may be my favorite comedy of all time, but the premise of show and many of the plots are ridiculous. Suspension of disbelief taken to another level.

I really do think it comes down to the quality of the writing, the characters, and having the right imaginary world to inhabit. A lot of people love science fiction, for example, but I find it only works in very limited ways. Okay, you got me, I'm a fan of the original STAR WARS and BACK TO THE FUTURE, but that's about it. Interesting fiction is about real people.

Oh, and the early 80s show REAL PEOPLE--please no reboots on that.

D McEwan said...

Buttermilk Sky, yes, drama is Life with the dull bits cut out.

DBenson said...

Even excellent PBS mysteries have their cliches. One, especially in the "movie length" shows, is the second murder or crime that pops up and the hero can't convince his boss there's a connection, despite all the overlap with the first murder. Sometimes, to mix it up, the second murder/crime is NOT related, but improbably involves several people from the original murder (and now of course the boss and/or rival wastes time chasing a connection). Lately I've been catching a lot of Inspector Morse and the sequel/prequel series.

Perry Mason fans -- or even non-fans -- should look up the 1930s Warner Brothers films. Warren William plays Mason as a happy near-shyster, fiddling with Della (they marry in the third film) and partying with the merry old coroner (Mason moves a dinner into the morgue so the coroner can perform an autopsy without missing out). One feels it's mere luck that his clients are innocent. They're fun despite the obvious Thin Man influence, but Gardner was evidently very unhappy. When William left the series, they made two more with bland boy scout types. One celebrates a victory by taking Della to a waffle house.

In a DVD interview, Barbara Hale (Della Street to Burr's Mason), recalled leaning on Mason's desk during a scene. Gardner came over and told her never to do that because it was disrespectful. One could only imagine how Gardner reacted a few decades earlier, when Della coyly hints she and Perry were rolling on the office carpet the previous evening.

McAlvie said...

The creative license thing - I'm sure everyone who has ever watched a movie or show supposedly set in their area has seen the same thing happen. Characters get a tip or need to interview someone or visit a crime scene. IRL, the destination is an hour drive in rush hour traffic. But they manage to visit several locations in the same day even though IRL they aren't anywhere near each other. And they are always rushing off to places as if they are 10 minutes away. Honestly, IRL you'd never make it in time to prevent the murder/evidence disposal/etc.

Perry Mason - I'm quite willing to have a new Perry, since unlike the Markham attempt, most people alive today wouldn't have seen Raymond Burr. I did, and I agree that he's it; but then I have that association. I do agree that the character is a lawyer and should be played as a lawyer. If he isn't going to be a lawyer, they shouldn't play off the name. And there was already a PI in the series, so why didn't they name the show Paul Drake? Next up, they'll have Sherlock Holmes playing an ice cream vendor and Hercule Poirot as a drunk Swedish sailor. And then when nobody watches, they'll claim audiences don't like mysteries anymore.

I wonder if the Gardner estate still owns the rights?

Mike Bloodworth said...

I don't have cable. And even if I did I couldn't afford premium.
All I knew about the new "P.M." is what I had read about it in various magazines. I didn't have any of those articles in front of me when I wrote my comment.

Mike Doran said...


In re the WB Perry Mason movies:
Ricardo Cortez was "a bland Boy Scout type"?
At about this same time, Ricardo Cortez was the first Sam Spade, in the original Maltese Falcon movie.
Opinions differ, as they always do, but the consensus I've read is that Cortez did a fairly good job of it; indeed, since Hammett described Spade as looking like "a blond Satan", some have said that Cortez was closer to what Hammett had in mind.
Anyway, Ricardo Cortez did have that after-career as the go-to red herring in everybody else's whodunits … which pretty much means "not bland" …


" … most people alive today wouldn't have seen Raymond Burr …"?

You are aware that there's an invention called television, and that on it they show shows?
And that those shows are frequently repeated on the above invention, even up to the present day?
And that one of the most repeated shows on the above invention is the '50s-'60s Perry Mason, which apparently attracts audiences of all ages (including people who weren't born until after the series left the air in 1966)?

This is all so idiotic - the Curse Of Demographics, scourge of the new millennium.
Just because something is Old, this doesn't mean that nobody Young will appreciate it.
Unfortunately, we've seen the arrival of enough generations who seem to believe in this nonsense - and here we are today.

Steve D said...

It's like TV shows set in New York and the star of the show always finds a parking space in front of the place they are going to. When does that ever happen in New York or San Francisco.

Gareth Wilson said...

There's a X-Men comic where the alien supervillain breaks into the mansion to confront the superheroes, and they're out. There's a couple of kids there, and they awkwardly ask if he wants to leave a message.

Milton the Momzer said...

In almost every cop show: the cop/detective wants to question someone. They find the guy, on the street. Instead of walking up to them and speaking, they shout their name from 50 yards away so the guys takes off in a run. I always imagine them saying: "Hey Joe Doakes! In the mood for a thrilling chase?"