Cliches in crime thrillers

Probably starting with the Steig Larssons, I’ve been reading a lot of modern crime thrillers - Jo Nesbo, Peter May, and now thoroughly enjoying Denzel Meyrick. Much as I enjoy them, I’ve starting spotting the odd cliche, and thought it might be fun to get the Dope to add to them. (Apologies if this has been done before).

  • if a nail gun appears, there will be inevitable consequences

  • unless a death is described in graphic terms - often including a hole suddenly appearing, a surprised look on a face, dark oozing blood, or a splatter of grey brain matter - that person you are meant to think is dead is not, repeat not, dead

  • someone drinks too much

  • a lead character “knows that women find him attractive”

Over to you…

When someone figures out who the killer is, they will not call the police and let them handle it. Instead, they will arrange to confront the killer in a dark, lonely place all by themselves.

And my years of reading culinary mysteries have informed me that women who own food establishments have “slaydar”–an uncanny ability to stumble over murder victims. And they have boyfriends and/or husbands that are the worst homicide detectives on the planet.

Not sure if this qualifies or not but it’s something I’ve certainly noticed quite often. The police will show up on the scene of a crime where they find a dead body with a bullet wound in the chest. The detective takes one glance at the wound, a wound that’s probably obscured by one or more layers of clothing, and says something like “Looks like the perp used a .38.”

I’m certainly no ballistic expert and I’ve only seen one bullet wound in a human in my life but I know enough to see this as ridiculous. Identifying a specific caliber or weapon based on a glance at the wound is impossible. There’s far too much variation in bullet design and in the way that different shell desigs interact with different weapons for this to be useful.

A standard cliche is a lone, heroic detective stalking a criminal in a dark, secluded place where he could be ambushed very easily. They never seem to wait for backup like they should. LOL

And another.

If a small town or remote Scottish island is the scene of a grisly murder and the book sells well, the number of further grisly murders in the aforementioned location is completely disproportionate to the national average.

During questioning, a suspect will let something slip that goes completely unnoticed at the time, but the lead investigator invariably recalls it much later and uses it to nail him.

The same applies to women in other professions, like novelist or landscaper. I mean, would you invite Jessica Fletcher to *your *wedding, or Rosemary and Thyme to redo *your *garden?

I heard a true story of a young woman with small kids taken in as a murder suspect.

The victim’s credit card had been stolen and used for many purchases including a seafood dinner. She was persuaded to confess (being told she could then go home and take care of her kids), so they turned on videotape to record her confession.

While on videotape, she had second thoughts, so the videotaped confession turned into a lengthy videotaped interrogation. She was eventually nailed for knowing that a seafood dinner was ordered.

After she was convicted (IIRC), the detective on the case reviewed the tapes (probably intending to use the case to demonstrate god police work). He realized that he had bungled the interrogation- it was clear to him in review that she had gotten to the point of answering questions to get the interview over with, and that she had merely guessed “seafood”!

If the male detective is single and needs to question a single woman, he will end up sleeping with her and she will help him solve the case.

There was an episode of ***Mannix ***in which he couldn’t let things slide because something on the recording of the main suspect’s interrogation kept “bugging” him. He finally figured it out (something about the timing of events, IIRC) around the third commercial break, after listening to the tape umpteen times.

If a crime potentially falls under two jurisdictions, the two teams will not work peacefully together like professionals, but will instead turn it into a dick measuring contest.

And very often, that meeting is for the purpose of blackmailing the killer!

Sure, that’ll work really well. . . .

  1. The sexy female agent or officer from a different agency working a different angle of the same case as the hero, who despises him for his interference in her case. They eventually end up in the sack together, then solve the crime together. 2. The retired agent or officer who has some information that can help the hero solve the case. Sometimes this retired guy is murdered before he can share everything he knows. 3. The sordid, underworld mob boss who helps the hero with a case because it benefits both.


Saw this on TV yesterday. Good guy has a whole gang of guy come after him. He uses stealth to take out all but the lead guy. To take out the lead guy, he comes down the hallway, slowly, in full view, a la wild west showdown.

No matter who dies in what manner the first assumption is its a robbery ……

Or its variation: the retired officer was a mentor to the hero, who admires him greatly and loves him like a father. Unfortunately, he turns out to be in league with the criminals.

I just readthree mysteries in a row where somebody was saved (at the 11th hour of course) because somebody else used the “find my phone” app, and another one where a suspect was tracked by an amateur detective using the same app.

Also, three books, three former police officers thrown off the force, two because of alcohol issues and one because he got shot in the head and survived, but had some brain issues.

Sometimes I think I read too much.

I was thinking of the Peter May Hebrides trilogy, as well as my newly discovered Denzel Meyrick Dci Daley novels. Dci Daley gets sent from Glasgow to investigate a gruesome murder in a remote, close-knit coastal community. He ends up staying there, and the murder-rate increases just a tad.

This is one I hate, and the main reason I don’t read police crime thrillers.

If one of the main detectives has a family unrelated to the investigation, they will become targets of either a) the insane but crafty serial killer, or b) the crime organization being investigated.

To me this seems like cheating, a cheap and easy way to add suspense. I prefer those kinds of detectives like in Midsomer Murders or Brunetti in Donna Leon’s books or Ruth Rendell’s Wexford, where their families get to lead ordinary lives without (as far as I have come across so far) being threatened by criminals. These are also detectives who are not broken in some way, not alcoholic or self-destructive. These are stories where you get to concentrate on the mystery without worrying about the detective. In other words, not “thrillers.”

I couldn’t even read the Peter Diamond installment where

his wife is killed, although I don’t think it had anything to do with being his wife. This is because she was a definite character that we had come to know and like.