A sense of humour

Peter of Detectives Beyond Borders alerts us to a discussion in the Australasian Crime Fiction forum in which Karen C asks us which crime fiction authors we find funny and why. There are some interesting selections there, including mine — but unfortunately I realise now that I’ve probably broken Forum rule 101 — "read the title of the forum", as mine involve non-Australasian authors. Sorry, guys! (But I bet you travel, Debi ;-). ) Bill James is mentioned, and I’m hoping to get some of his for Christmas. (It would be a digression to say why here, so maybe I’ll post about that another time.)

My reaction to Karen’s question is that I don’t usually like books that set out to be funny, crime fiction or no. I love it when I read something that makes me laugh "in passing", as it were: the joy of discovery is part of the pleasure of it. But books that promote themselves as "crime caper with a dash of chick lit", or whatever, are not generally to my taste.

So what does make one laugh? Rest assured, I am not going to attempt to answer that philosophical question here; rather I ask it to segue into this lovely post by Scott Adams of the Dilbert Blog on "nearly funny things". Scott writes:

"The key to finding good humor fodder is that the story must be NEARLY funny without being completely funny on its own. For example, if I see a story about some spatially challenged burglar who got his head stuck in a chimney, and a stork built a nest in his ass, that’s already completely funny. There’s nothing for me to add.

What I’m looking for is a story that makes me giggle before I even know why – the potential is there but it needs some magic humor dust to make it all that it can be."

And I think that explains very well why I am not too keen on "funny books", but love it when I uncover some slightly quirky passage that makes me burst out laughing. (Scott describes how he writes humour in the rest of that post at the Dilbert blog — well worth a read.) 

3 thoughts on “A sense of humour

  1. Thanks for thinking of me here, Maxine. The issue of humour in crime is one that’s preoccupied me for a long time.
    You mention ‘books that promote themselves’. Unfortunately, it’s not the books that do this – and certainly not the authors either!
    I was very unhappy at my books being marketed as ‘comic crime’. Although there IS humour in my writing (hopefully never inappropriate)I felt the label trivialised and undermined the very serious issues the books dealt with (homelessness, addiction, refugees, prostitution rackets to name but a few!).
    I’ll try to get a post together on this at some time. Meanwhile I’m very busy organising the launch/moot on the 9th.
    You ARE coming, aren’t you? Oh PLEASE say you are!

  2. Maxine, Scott Adams’ comment was stunning, illuminating, dead on, just wonderful. And I like your comment, too, about books that set out to be funny.
    I have expressed impatience and disgust with crime novels that are all first-person, yuk-yuk, look-at-me-I’m-so-droll — no offense intended to readers who like Parnell Hall.
    My current discussions of humor in crime novels began with surprise and pleasure over the much subtler touch that some Australian crime writers seem to have.
    Debi, if you used the words “comic” and “crime” in the same sentence, you know Donald Westlake. Have you read his John Dortmunder novella “Walking Around Money” in the Transgressions collections assembled by Ed McBain? Westlake has been moving more and more toward sympathetic observations of semi-rural life and down-on-their-luck workers in recent years, and “Walking Around Money” has that, plus evocative descriptions of Manhattan and upstate New York, plus all the humor one would expect of a Dortmunder story. In a long and distinguished career, this is one of Westlake’s best works.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder is More Fun Away from Home”

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