RARA-AVIS: Bruen and Unnecessary Anything

From: Donna ( donna.moore@virgin.net)
Date: 16 Mar 2005

Hi All,

Al wrote:

> If I hadn't already read it, your description would have made me rush
> to the
> nearest bookshop and buy it. Different strokes, Michael. Not everybody
> likes
> Guinness, nor should they.

Definitely. I LOVE Ken Bruen's books, and the very things Michael cites are the things I love about them.

As for unneccesary violence...well, one person't unnecessary is another person's prerequisite. I only call something unnecessary if it takes me out of the story because it feels out of place. I personally don't find Ken Bruen's books unnecessarily anything...except unnecessarily too far apart (I don't think it's too much to ask for one new Bruen a week, is it?). My Mum, who also likes crime fiction, WOULD find them unnecessarily graphic though. Personally, I find the books she likes have unnecessary cats. And butlers. And people being poisoned with rare poison from the Three Kneed Scarlet Guatemalan Tree Frog. And gentility.

While I like noir and bizarre and dark and outrageous and in-your-face, my Mum prefers vicars and tea parties, twitching net curtains and poisonings that get solved by monks or elderly ladies or cats. She once tried a Martina Cole (it turned out to be The Ladykiller) and rang me up whispering (god alone knows why she felt the need to whisper, she was sitting in her own living room at the time) to tell me she'd just read part of a pornographic book, and she was shocked. "It had 'lady' in the title, but they weren't, dear."

My own personal unnecessary usually involves serial killers. For me there are serial killer books, and then there are books which just happen to have serial killers in them. Serial killer books are the ones where you're never allowed to forget that there's a mad slasher on the loose, where his bizarre antics dominate the pages, and where I always feel slightly grubby after reading them - if I actually manage to finish them. I MUCH prefer the books which have serial killers in them - while the blood and gore and tortured mind is ever present, it doesn't overpower the book. These are books where I think "That was a really good book - oh, there was a serial killer in it."

Generally, the latter tend to be police procedurals, PI books etc where the focus is not so much on the dark and devious mind of the serial killer, and how often he was slapped as a baby, but on how the investigation into finding him goes, and the effects on everyone else in the book.

As a genre I don't care for bizarre serial killer books and films. The more patterns or quirks the killer has, the more blood is spilled and body parts mutilated, the more good writing, character development and a decent plot go out of the window. Some of these serial killer books seem to exist just for sensationalist purposes. The ones I don't like are where the author seems to think that making their killer a murderer of blue eyed women with one arm (the women, not the murderer), who drowns his victims in an increasingly violent way in a vat of hot chocolate while narrating The Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner, drawing a picture of a squirrel on the wall and scattering rose petals around the bathroom is all the character development and justification the avid reader needs. A-ha - the serial killer was burned by a scalding mug of hot chocolate as a baby, force-fed him by his mother Rose, a blue-eyed ex Womens Royal Navy sailor who lost an arm in a bizarre accident involving a rabid squirrel.

Sex is the other thing which is often cited as unnecessary. Errrrr...if you get my meaning. As for sex in mysteries, well, if it fits (oo-er missus) then it's fine. But again, one person's unnecessary may not be another person's. Sometimes it seems to be put in for titillation purposes. And, since I do a lot of my reading on public transport, I don't particularly want to be titillated at 8am on a wet Monday morning while sitting on the bus next to a drooling bloke who's oozing curry and beer from every pore. Call me straight-laced, but...

And many times they slow down the plot. I just want to shriek at them
"Oh get on with it - and if you're taking me under the duvet, there'd bloody better be a clue under there."

Finally, there aren't many people who do it well. I read a cosy mystery a couple of years ago (I know, I'm sorry, will I be drummed out of rara-avis for that admission?) where the woman was asleep and the man slid one hand between her thighs and the other into her mouth. And this was supposed to be erotic. I'm sorry, but if anyone slides ANYTHING in my mouth while I'm sleeping, then I'm probably going to dream it's a chocolate eclair and chomp down hard.

On the other hand, there are plenty of books that do it well, but I'm not going to mention any of them just in case you tell my Mum.

And talking of unnecessary, this e-mail has been unnecessarily tedious. For which, apologies.


Donna (Very Much For Sex and Violence)


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