Saturday, October 19, 2013

Must the Perfect Always Be the Enemy of the Good?

Suzanne S. Barnhill gave a speech ("The Perfect Detective Novel," 1991, PDF) [link now dead] that could have you often nodding your head in assent or possibly shaking it negatively.
The ideal detective novel should be, first and foremost, a novel.
Second, the novel must be a mystery.
The detective novel, needless to say, must have a detective.
The next criterion of the perfect detective novel is that a crime must have been committed.
The next requirement is that the detective must solve the crime, not just witness its solution.
The perfect detective novel should have a distinct set of suspects, and the perpetrator (murderer) must be one of them.
Although detective stories are generally thought of as escape fiction, I think that the perfect detective novel should also be educational.
Although I like detective stories to be educational, and historical fiction can certainly be very enlightening, I want my detective novel to be set in the present.
. . . my perfect detective novel is also not too realistic.
. . . ideally my perfect detective novel is one of a series. When you have discovered an author and detective you like, you want to be able to return to them again and again . . .
Not only should the detective novel not be too grittily realistic, it should ideally be told with humor. Murder is too serious a subject to be entertaining escape fiction if told seriously . . .
The perfect detective novel should be at least literate if not literary. The erudite detective is now almost a thing of the past . . .
The novel should have interesting, colorful, memorable characters.
I think it is a requirement of the perfect detective novel that the detective, whether married or single, have a stable love life.
One very important criterion of the perfect detective novel is that the detective have a believable means of support. There was a time when we accepted amateur detectives as being independently wealthy (or, in the case of such spinsters as Miss Marple, at least independently comfortable), but in modern novels the detective must have some way of earning a living and must be seen to be doing so.

Category: Detective fiction

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