by Sandra Parshall
The TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) heroine seems to be vanishing from crime fiction at last, but she’s being replaced by somebody equally obnoxious: the “kick-ass” heroine – foul-mouthed, hard-drinking, and thoroughly unpleasant.
Both types are on my list of characters I never want to see in a book again. Along with...
Speaking of drinking, I’ve had my fill of alcoholic cops of both genders. A police detective who can’t make it through 24 hours without getting soused doesn’t inspire my trust, admiration, or patience. Active alcoholics should not be on the job, and in most real police departments they wouldn’t be. In fiction, they drink, pass out, make critical mistakes, and somehow rarely suffer for it. Female fictional cops who drink too much may wake up in strange men’s beds with no idea how they got there. When the protagonist is an alcoholic, the drinking becomes the story. I’d rather read about the crime-solving.
I’m also tired of depressed cops. Maybe I’ve been reading too many Scandinavian mysteries, but I’ve reached the point where I can’t get through a book about a detective who is constantly questioning whether life is worth living. If I saw one of these people on a window ledge, I’d be on the street below yelling, “Jump! Jump!” Get it over with already and spare the rest of us.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the depressed cop is the wacky sidekick, seen most often in amateur sleuth and PI novels. Sometimes they’re family members or friends rather than active participants in the crime-solving. Maybe such a character is meant to give a little color to an otherwise bland protagonist – a Kramer to the book’s Seinfeld. That approach carries a big risk: the wild and crazy secondary character may grab the reader’s attention and eclipse the protagonist. I’d rather see a little more effort put into making the lead character riveting.
Then there’s the badgering mother, so common in mysteries about female cops and amateur sleuths. The badgering mother’s only goal in life is to make her daughter “settle down” – which translates to: Give me a grandchild! The daughter is doing valuable work and is good at it? Who cares! If she hasn’t popped out a baby yet, she’s worthless in the eyes of her mother. What puzzles me is that most of these mothers, in books being published now, are part of the generation most profoundly affected by the women’s liberation movement. From the way the characters are portrayed, you’d never guess Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem ever existed.
I often see “older” characters presented in a way that makes me wonder why the author hates everyone over fifty. An old man leers at and makes lewd remarks about young girls, a middle-aged woman in a robe invites a young policeman into her house and her robe “accidentally” falls open, revealing a naked body that is, of course, wrinkled and disgusting. Divorced women are bitter, lead empty lives, and can’t let two minutes pass without ranting against the gold-digging little tramps their husbands left them for. Many of these sad souls spend their time peering through the curtains at their neighbors. Yes, these people exist in real life, but they feel awfully stale on the page.
I could go on, but I’d rather hear from you. What kind of character sets your teeth on edge and makes you want to throw the book at the wall?