Which crime-novel character are you?

Crime novels, eh? I read a lot. I love a lot. True, some people say they can be a bit reliant on cliché. But maybe that’s a large part of why we read them – we know what to expect and we want to sit back and enjoy a thrilling narrative arc with a satisfying conclusion. The best crime writers will play with cliche anyway, and subvert it into something very special.

But what if you suspect you’re actually in a crime novel? Has a lot of sinister stuff been going down? Are you getting weird emails, or has someone been re-arranging your pants drawer? Has your best friend/cat/sister gone missing after leaving a strange cut-off voicemail (good effort from the cat, I think you’ll agree)? Did you just pop out to buy the latest Heat magazine, and you’re suddenly on the run from hitmen, CIA operatives, and crazed serial killers? Well then, you need this handy guide as your survival tool. Find out exactly who you are in a crime novel.

You’ve slept with a hot man who then tries to kill you: you’re THE HEROINE. Ladies: if you suspect you’re in a crime novel, and you’re about to shag a hot too-good-to-be-true man, first check thoroughly in his attic and any suspicious locked outhouses. Before you drop your pants, make sure he’s not planning to drop you into the next world. Murder is an STD, you know. If he is in fact planning to kill you, slap on some handcuffs in an erotic feint and call the police, even if he/you are the police. Better luck coming back next time as a character in an erotic novel. In an erotic novel, if he tries to kill you, it’s TOTES SEXY and not at all a sign of an anti-feminist backlash. Hey look, I said ‘lash’.

You can only think in italics: You’re THE KILLER. Killers in crime novels are usually fiendishly clever. They also seem to have plenty of time to devise devilish plots to taunt the police/main character, or cut up newspapers to send evil messages, or hang about outside your house waiting to scare you. Do killers not have day jobs? Or Sky Atlantic? I blame the welfare state.

You can only think in ellipses…Or can you…? : You’re…EVERYONE IN A CRIME NOVEL. A little-known fact is that the ellipsis was created in 1943, when four hundred extra titles by Agatha Christie had to be liquidated as she’d used up the entire world’s supply of plot. Since then every new crime writer has to agree to adopt some of the orphaned full stops and give them a home in their novel, in the form of the ellipsis. Some writers are clearly a lot more generous than others with their house-room.

You eat lots but you never put on weight, possibly because you’re driven to run very far and very fast: you’re THE HEROINE. Inner demons are the best personal trainer, doncha know. Extra points if you detail every meal you eat.

You listen to Elbow. On vinyl: You’re THE SENSITIVE YET TROUBLED MALE COP. [Rant break: Characters in crime novels invariably like to spin some choonz while sifting through the entrails of a murder victim. That’s fair enough, we all need to kick back. But do we always need to hear their musical choices, as if the character is an uninitiated attendee at a rock festival, swathed in their newly-purchased band T-shirt? If I want to know what everyone listens to I’ll just log in to Spotify, thanks. And for some reason it’s always bloody Elbow. I mean, I like Elbow as much as the next 30ish Guardian reader (especially that one that goes do-do-do-do DOO! Do-do-do-do DO-DO! You know that one?), but enough is enough. And please stop name-dropping Guy Garvey. That guy (ha ha) has been in more crime novels than Hercule Poirot. No one ever says, ‘on the stereo, Bernie Nolan was singing about being in the mood for dancing,’ do they? Oh, and owning vinyl does not in itself qualify you for a job as a UN Goodwill Ambassador. It’s like saying ‘I’m so cool, I cut the lawn with a scythe! I still use an abacus to add up! I OWN AND OPERATE A SODASTREAM!’ I’m old enough to remember tapes, and guess what, they were crap. Though it’s sad you can’t rewind an MP3 with a pencil. End of rant.]

You are really beautiful, trusting, and nice: you’re THE VICTIM. Maybe Samantha Brick was right, and beauty is its own downfall. In a crime novel, if you’re smokin’ hot, it’s only a matter of time before someone tries to kill you. You’ve been warned. It’s probably your own fault for being so pretty anyway.

You’re a functioning alcoholic with an estranged child/wife/mother/dog:  you’re THE BRILLIANT YET LONER MALE COP

You’re beautiful but uptight, you wear your hair in a bun and keep trying to give up smoking: you’re THE FEMALE SIDEKICK OF THE BRILLIANT YET LONER MALE COP

You’re beautiful but understanding, and you put up with burnt dinners, broken dates, and the slow-burning loss of your dream of a semi in Kingston with 2.4 kids and a people-carrier: you’re THE LOVE INTEREST OF THE BRILLIANT YET LONER MALE COP. You may also be THE FEMALE SIDEKICK. In another twist you may also be DEAD.

You’re beautiful, but the fact that you know five languages and sleep with a USB stick under your pillow clearly means you can’t be trusted: you’re THE FEMME FATALE IN A THRILLER (or possibly a writer. Either way to be viewed with suspicion).

You’re a woman in a crime novel who isn’t beautiful: you’re….um, let me get back to you on that.

You’re a dodgy man who lives alone in a caravan. You have facial twitches and you get arrested in chapter three: you’re THE RED HERRING. It’s never the most obvious killer. We know this. We’ve read crime novels before, and also it can’t be them, unless the rest of the book is devoted to chronicling the writer’s vinyl collection. Ideally it also shouldn’t be the second-most obvious killer. Second-most obvious is the new most-obvious.

You’re sexy but selfish and you have a job as an artist/singer/actress: you’re THE HEROINE’S BEST FRIEND. You’re incredibly annoying but she keeps you around for some reason, perhaps to use as a human shield when the crazed killer comes to call. Because someone will definitely try to kill you at some point. You’ll probably be too busy snorting coke or shagging your toy-boy to notice. PS, give the heroine back that dress you borrowed, you selfish cow.

You’re loyal but will do anything for a bowl of milk: you’re THE MAIN CHARACTER’S CAT. Someone may try to kill you at some point. Beware of poisoned Whiskas.

You’re dead/missing/abusive – you’re THE MAIN CHARACTER’S PARENT

You’re dead/missing/disturbed by childhood trauma: you’re THE MAIN CHARACTER’S SIBLING

You’re the hot barrister/windsurfing instructor/tree surgeon with whom the heroine has just steamy sex: You’re THE KILLER. Or maybe THE OTHER RED HERRING.

You’re an ordinary Joe/Joanne who went out to buy a Pot Noodle and inadvertently got caught up in an international conspiracy involving aliens/coded works of art/a secret government facility: you’re THE HERO OR HEROINE OF A THRILLER. I hope you’ve been going to the gym, because you’re gonna be doing some serious running, dude.  It’s OK though, because during the course of the thriller you will discover hitherto-unsuspected talents such as lock-picking, kick-boxing, and punching the bad guys in the crotch.

You’re sardonic and grumpy and nothing annoys you more than being asked to estimate the time of death: you’re THE PATHOLOGIST

You’re untrustworthy, camera-hungry, and have an expensive haircut: you’re THE CHIEF INSPECTOR

You smoke fifty a day but your raddled face hides a heart of gold: you’re THE WORKING-CLASS COLOUR. Your name is probably Sandra. You’re also probably THE VICTIM.

You wear green wellies and own half of Wiltshire. You view murder as a damned inconvenience that will probably bring more people across your land than the Rambler’s Act. You’re THE UPPER-CLASS TYRANT. You may also be THE KILLER.

You read the Guardian, shop at Waitrose, and have a child called Chloe or Sam. You’re THE MIDDLE CLASS GUILT FIGURE. Quite likely to also be THE VICTIM.

Your entrails are being washed in a bucket while someone makes sarcastic quips over your eviscerated corpse: you’re THE VICTIM. Tough breaks, kid.

**update** You have a wet nose and can sniff out a mystery at fifty paces: you’re THE DOG WHO INEVITABLY FINDS THE MURDERED CORPSE. Dine out on your story at feeding bowls all across your patch, poochy, cos you’ve made it now.

Any others? As for me, I reckon I’m definitely the main character in a psychological thriller, who no one believes because of my obviously batty air of detachment from reality. That and the ink stains on my cardigan.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Adelee says:

    I’m totally the main characters cat.

  2. Dammit, have you read my book? 😉

  3. MarinaSofia says:

    I had high hopes of being the femme fatale and then you spoilt it all by claiming she had to be beautiful. Didn’t I hear somewhere that Cleopatra was not as beautiful as all that, it was her brains that everyone fell for?
    Really enjoyed that – will be chuckling all day.

  4. ruan says:

    being less than beautiful I am not sure you have me in it at all unless I am an early victim! mind you 3 teens, 4 cats and one broken down car I am a victim most days 🙂

  5. David Ellis says:

    Excellent, very well written blog post Claire – superbly entertaining!

    Five languages for The Femme Fatale is very specific – I wonder which ones they would be?

    For my sins, I’m guilty of being the sensitive loner male cop then, since I love Elbow (amongst many others I care to add) but I wouldn’t go shouting their name around in a book, for fear of having to pay them exorbitant copyright royalties – I love them but not that much.

    I agree with you in terms of name dropping bands/songs, something of which I think is only worth doing if they have a specific song/lyrical passage that can advance the plot, evoke an emotional feeling or allows you to make a music related pun but not to make you (the writer) look cool, hip or trendy.

    I think it’s enough to tell the reader that your protagonist it into prog-rock or whatever – let them assign the notion of which actual bands the hero/heroine might be interested in based on their genre preference, that way you don’t turn off anybody reading your stuff that doesn’t like the bands you’ve mentioned.

    Keep up the stellar good work – looking forward to reading more of these in the future.


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