Sunday, April 26, 2015

On Writing — A Few Thoughts On Solving Crime The Old Fashioned Way

NCIS — Top-Rated Crime TV

It appears that every popular TV show dealing with crime has the same ingredients.  There is a team, with a tough curmudgeonly leader who has a tragic past, a couple of younger, attractive action members, a colorful eccentric medical examiner and a funny, lovable, quirky computer geek or two who, with just a couple of quick taps on the keyboard, can come up with whatever is needed precisely when it is needed. Crime solved.

I appreciate the modern approach.  Even though actual crime solving lags behind its TV counterparts technologically, pursuit of criminals through DNA, digital tracking devices, cell phone towers and computer hacking is real and increasingly common.

However, because I am of a certain age – the age of uncertainty, I suspect – the only challenge for the modern writer is not so much the ability to deliver a clever plot, but a hungry technological mind. When all else fails, the computer will match an overlooked hair with the DNA on a computer match. This puts readers, who haven’t the high-tech background, at a great disadvantage when attempting to solve the crime along with the on-screen protagonists.  Colombo’s brilliant villains don’t stand a chance.  And Perry Mason loses his cases before the trial even begins.

What I miss most in contemporary crime fiction (movies, books and TV) is character development — not just of the protagonists, but also of other characters important or who should be important to the story. The underlying theme of a really good story is about the depth of as well as the failure or survival of character itself.  I believe the reason books like The Maltese Falcon or L.A. Confidential suggests that readers rightfully want a tight mystery with a well-developed motive for the crime, we also want there to be something larger at stake.  


Teri-on-the-sandbar said...

You're right, of course. Plot is good; character is critical! Still, for reasons I can't quite explain, I am smitten with this year's new NCIS:New Orleans. It fits the formula to a "t," but the addition of the French Quarter scenery and music creates a character all its own!

Ronald Tierney said...

I like NCIS and don't mind the L.A. version sometimes. I was fearful of the New Orleans setting, I like it a lot more than I thought I would. They overdo NOLA a it, but the city is so great, I buy into it. Now, if only they's do one where Bobby Jindal is kidnapped in an unsolved mystery.