WHODUNIT?

Essential clues for impatient readers of crime fiction:

You wanna know whodunit? In a PI novel the villain is usually the client who engages the PI in chapter one. In a golden age whodunit the perpetrator will be the one person who could not possibly have done it. In a modern mystery the villain will be one of two people (sometimes the two are combined): either he is the man who controls the town or he’s the man who abuses children. These are golden rules; they solve eighty per cent of all mysteries. I should have expanded them into a book, and made more money than I ever earned from crime fiction.

An interesting point in these rules (interesting to me, if to no one else) is that the villains are almost always male. Is it time to break this rule? I read lots of crime books and thrillers, and the villain is rarely female. (My own The Annex was a rare exception and, even there, she was more unlucky than evil.) In most crime books it’s a fact that although villains grow more dastardly, they remain boringly masculine. I doubt this is due to political correctness – more to a failure on the part of we writers to realise that our readers like female
villains. (Think Lucretia Borgia.) The female villain is far more disturbing than the male, no matter how perverted we try to make him. Merely by being the villain she seems to break the rules of nature: she is unnatural. Our blackest stories revel in unnatural villains; we love ’em, and right here we have a vast crop of shocking characters crying out to be exploited. That should be woman’s role, I suggest, for the first decade of this millennium – the writer’s challenge is to exploit women in new and more entertaining ways.

Would that work for you? Am I right or am I right?

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