The Devil’s in the Detail (or Maybe Not) By P.J Nash (Paul Morris)
The devil’s in the detail so they say. And more and more crime writers seem to be getting involved with the finer points. But are they ‘losing the plot’ in the process? Is this an author /response to a demand from the most important people, namely, you the crime readers? Or merely a demonstration of geekery from the authors. Reading a recent Roy Grace novel I was bowled over by the amount of detail lavished on the most minor characters, their clothes and accessories. A legion of adjectives clogging the sentences. Don’t get me wrong I’m a massive fan of Peter James and admire his work. Cramming sentences with adjectives is something I’m also guilty of. Once you get the keyboard clattering the taut prose you think you are writing takes a gentle meander down into the cul de sac of description and a sharp left into waffle street. Very often the overuse of detail reflects the personal proclivities of the author. In my début novel, ‘The Hunt for the Dingo’, there is a plethora of smoking. Pipes, cigars and cigarettes prevail. By the end of the book I’m surprised if readers don’t have a hacking cough.
Guns are another favourite topic of (male?) crime writers, myself included. Lee Child likes to wax lyrical over firearms and he often romps over a couple of pages describing the merits of the 9mm Parabellum. People are interested in this stuff and a few clicks on Google will bring you to forums discussing muzzle velocities etc. Maybe this is overkill or male geekery writ large. But whichever the fans keep on buying the books. Everything in moderation. As with adjectives, it’s possible to go overboard with weapons. ‘The only weapon missing is an atom bomb,’ says one critic of ‘The Dingo’ on Amazon. Whilst discussing the merits of a Glock versus a Sig Sauer might be a bit too much detail, at the other end of the scale, it’s important to get the elementary details correct. Despite having read many instance to the contrary, there is in fact NO safety catch on a revolver. Unless you’re an ex cop or ex military, the crime writer doesn’t have a great working knowledge of guns n ammo. ‘But there’s Wikipedia,’ I hear you cry. When writing ‘Dingo’ as a starry eyed amateur I went down this avenue. But when it came to a serious edit and dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s Wikipedia just doesn’t cut the mustard. Where to turn to then? Well once more it’s the internet.
During the writing of ‘Dingo’ a few clicks turned up the Press Department of the Northern Territory Police. A polite email yielded a positive reply. They would happily look at the manuscript. Their only caveat was that they wanted a paper copy. So off went what was most of a ream of paper to Darwin. A few weeks later I received an in-depth email listing all the errors I had made regarding weapons and operational procedures. The feedback was from a serving police officer who also enlightened me on what really happens when someone is tasered. This is the stuff that soft handed civilians like me would never have had experience of. Most of the details I had gleaned from Wikipedia were useless at worst and at best out of date.
So it’s good then to spend some time getting the facts straight. But lets not let too much reality creep into crime fiction. From Sherlock Holmes to Hercule Poirot, the maverick detective has always garnered the attention of readers looking to be entertained. Whatever happens we don’t want too much of the hum drum everyday dulling down the magic that lies between the covers.
PAUL MORRIS who writes under the pen name P.J Nash was born in the English Midlands. He studied English and History at university and has worked in a number of jobs from construction labourer to proofreader and TEFL teacher. He is the author of The Hunt for the Dingo (The James & Sandersen Files) a police thriller set in Australia. He is currently working on the follow up novel Dark Angel .