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Penzler on crime

26 January 2004

Style - that is to say, literary style - matters. How well an author writes, the use of metaphor, simile, and other literary devices matters. Plot matters. Tell a good and fair story, have an arc that establishes the characters and the ensuing action, maintain intriguing subplots, and reach an inevitable and satisfying conclusion, and I'm yours. Create three-dimensional characters, people I want to know more about, or forget the whole thing. If there are no fully developed heroes, villains, victims, suspects, red herrings, or detectives (official or not), I might just as well be putting letters in little squares in a crossword puzzle. I bring the same set of requirements to a mystery novel as I would to any work of general fiction.

And here's the deal. If a cat solves the crime, I burn the book. I spit on it with disgust, I rip out the pages in a fury, I stomp on it in a rage until it bleeds, and then I mercifully end its worthless life by burning it. If you love books in which a cat or a dog or even a damned goldfish is smarter than the detective and deduces the conclusion, skip this column. You will never find a moment of joy here, unless or until I lose my mind.

Otto Penzler introducing his new column The Crime Scene in the New York Sun