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Crime fiction clichés

Posted on Sep 15, 2015 in Beck BBC4 | 12 Comments

p031l75sOn Saturday night I was watching Beck on BBC4. At one point Beck arrives at the house of a woman whose friends have reported her missing. He rings the bell, no answer, and touches the door which swings open. And I wondered, do killers and kidnappers never think to lock the door when they leave? I have seen this so many times over the years of watching crime on TV. Beck did have some original touches, particularly the opening, but there were some well-worn elements too.

Here are five clichés (not all spotted in Beck), including the one I’ve just described.

There is the scene where the detective finds a bag of white powder, puts his finger in and tastes it. It could be anything. It could be something so toxic that it kills him instantly. No thinking person would do this.

There is the billowing curtain at the open window. You know immediately that the killer is in the house.

There is the detective rushing into a dangerous situation without back-up for no apparent reason other than to put himself in jeopardy.

There is a noise in the otherwise empty house. A cat appears, the woman relaxes – and then –

Sometimes it’s fair enough: it is all part of the game that we know someone’s lurking in the shadows and it isn’t the cat, and it’s the same with the billowing curtain. Sometimes it feels a bit lazy. Sometimes it makes the detective seem, well, not very smart.

And the verdict on Beck? Not as good as the original books from which it’s derived – but what is? I’ll be watching next week.

 

 

12 Comments

  1. Kevin
    September 15, 2015

    They never seem to show the work that’s undertaken by the uniformed officers who are always first on the scene and directed by their sergeant and inspector to carry out the initial actions that invariably gather enough information to allow the SIO to pick the case up and run with it. They do also make mistakes on occasion, which sets the SIO back a few steps.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      September 16, 2015

      Thanks, Kevin. That’s interesting. You’d think there would be some scope for drama there, especially if the uniformed officers make a mistake, which must inevitably happen now and then.

      Reply
      • Kevin
        September 17, 2015

        Sadly Christine it does happen. We think every police officer in uniform is automatically able to deal competently with any given situation without ever thinking that today may be their first day on the streets alone. Their supervisors should be checking their work constantly and supporting their development but this can fall short when one has several young in service officers to supervise. So, mistakes are easy to come across. Thankfully many of them are without serious consequence.

        Reply
  2. tracybham
    September 17, 2015

    My husband and I do watch a lot of crime shows, either on TV or DVD, and that is one of the downsides. The more you watch, the more you see all the shows doing the same thing to move the action forward. And the lone investigator going in without backup is really annoying. Of course, most of them have less than 45 minutes to tell a story, but still.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      September 18, 2015

      Nice to hear from you, Tracy. My husband and I are in the same boat. Some crime shows do manage to break the mould, but the less inspired ones can be irritatingly similar.

      Reply
  3. Susan D
    September 22, 2015

    Ah, the blowing curtain at the open window can also mean someone left that way. Especially from a 20th floor apartment (such as in The Front).

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      September 22, 2015

      Thanks, Susan, yes indeed, it can work both ways. What is The Front?

      Reply
      • Susan D
        September 27, 2015

        Oh, The Front.
        http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074554/
        An old movie (where DID the years go?) about blacklisting in the McCarthy era in the US. In one poignant scene, a blacklisted actor who can’t get work chooses to leave by the hotel window, curtains left blowing in the wind.

        Well worth watching. Woody Allen is in it, but it’s not a Woody Allen movie.

        Reply
  4. Lyn
    September 23, 2015

    The detective without backup is a particularly annoying cliche. I love Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series but several of her books ended with either this cliche or Ruth and/or her young daughter in peril & I just thought it was ridiculous. On the other hand, it would be difficult to come up with different scenarios, I suppose. I think we’ve just all read/watched too much crime & we can see the plot twists coming.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      September 24, 2015

      Yes, it is irritating. I find it especially so, when it’s a woman who is behaving recklessly! Having said that, I am guilty too of putting my heroine(s) in jeopardy. I think the challenge is to find original and credible ways of doing it, or somehow to play with your reader’s or viewer’s expectations.

      Reply

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