“Things that Drive Crime Writers CRAZY” (by Melodie Campbell)

Last week, all three of Dell Magazines’ mystery fiction editors—Linda Landrigan, editor-in-chief of AHMM, Jackie Sherbow, associate editor of EQMM and AHMM, and I—were interviewed on SleuthSayers, a blog by and for “professional crime writers and crime fighters.” In exchange for our interviews, a call went out to regular SleuthSayers contributors to blog for our sites. EQMM was delighted to receive this post from Melodie Campbell (known on SleuthSayers as Bad Girl). Called the “Queen of Comedy” by the Toronto Sun, the Canadian author has won nearly a dozen crime-fiction awards, including the Derringer and the Arthur Ellis. She is the past Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada and the author of a number of highly regarded crime novels. Her short fiction has appeared in AHMM and other publications; EQMM readers will have seen stellar reviews of her Goddaughter series in The Jury Box.—Janet Hutchings

I’m a crime writer.  Hell, I’ll put on my other hat (the one with the pointy top) and say it.  I got my start writing comedy. Standup and newspaper columns, with the odd (very odd) greeting card thrown in.

I have a certain amount of legitimacy, in that The Toronto Sun called me “Canada’s Queen of Comedy.” Apparently, someone on staff there likes “wild and loopy.” Which may call into question their sanity as much as mine, but I digress.

I now write comic capers (the Goddaughter series). This is because I made the biggest mistake ever made by a person not legally insane.

Way back when we all had pet dinosaurs, one of my plays was performed in Toronto (Burglar for Coffee.) It may have been a bit zany. A television producer happened to be in the audience. After the show, he came up to me and said, “You are completely nuts. How would you like to write pilots for me? You’ll need to move to California.”

I had two toddlers at the time. And I’m Canadian. No way could I see how I could move to California. So I said no. Besides. It was 1993. Who had ever heard of HBO?

As I said, the biggest mistake ever made by someone not legally insane.

So I turned to a life of crime. Okay, writing crime capers. I come by that legitimately, but that’s another blog post. (How to Write Mob Comedies Without Getting Taken Out by The Family. And you thought I was kidding. . . .)

Which brings me to the point of this blog: suspension of disbelief.  I’m willing to admit that as an audience, we might agree to “suspend belief” for a little while. As a writer, I do it regularly. As a reader and viewer, I delight when someone takes me into another world.

But enough is enough. Crime fiction and television, you go too far. CSI Hoboken, or wherever you are, take note. Here are some things that drive otherwise fairly normal crime writers (oxymoron alert) crazy:

  1. Crime scene people in high heels and raw cleavage.

Of all the things that television distorts, this is the one that bugs us the most.  Ever been on a crime scene?  Ever been in a lab?

For six years, I was Director of Marketing for the Canadian Society of Medical Laboratory Science.  I’ve been in a freaking lab or two.  Take it from me: it ain’t a place for date-night shoes and long, loose hair.  You want my DNA messing with your crime results?

Network producers, stop treating us like ignorant adolescents who need to be sexually charged every single moment. Stop. Just stop. It’s insulting.

  1.   Gunshot victims who give their last speech and then die, kerplunk.

Full disclosure: I was also a hospital director. (Strange, I know. Comedy and healthcare. But believe me, the ability to laugh under pressure is what keeps us going in hospitals.)

People who get hit with a bullet to the heart die, kerplunk.  They aren’t hanging around to give their last words. People who get hit in the gut may take many hours to die. It’s not a pretty sight. Take it from me. They usually aren’t thinking sentimental thoughts.

  1. Where’s the blood spatter?

If you stab someone while they are still living and breathing, there is going to be blood spatter.  Usually, that spatter will go all over the stabber.  So sorry, creators: Your bad guy is not going to walk away immaculate from a crime scene in which he just offed somebody with a stiletto.  You won’t need Lassie to find him in a crowd, believe me.

  1. Villains who do their “Fat Lady Sings” pontification.

Why does every villain delay killing the good guy so he can tell the poor schmuck his life story?  I mean, the schmuck is going to be offed in two minutes, right?  You’re going to plug him.  So why is it important that he know why you hate your mother and the universe in general?

Someday, I am going to write a book/script where one guy gets cornered and before he can say a word, this happens:

<INT.  A dark warehouse or some other cliché. >


The smoking gun fell to my side as Snidely dropped to the floor.

“Dudley!” gasped Nell.  “You didn’t give him a chance to explain!”

I yawned.  “Bor-ing.  All these villains go to the same school.  You heard one, you’ve heard them all.”

“Isn’t that against the law?” said Nell, stomping her little foot. “Don’t you have to let the bad guy have his final scene?”


The smoking gun fell to my side as Nell dropped to the floor.

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21 Responses to “Things that Drive Crime Writers CRAZY” (by Melodie Campbell)

  1. Caro Soles says:

    Well said! I watch a lot if European cop shows and believe me they look as if they are WORKING! And in the lab they are completely covered in not sexy bunny suits, hair and all. Get with it, North Amerca!
    Caro Soles

  2. LisaWriter says:

    In absolute agreement! And how about the too-cool-for-school detectives who wander around holding evidence without gloves – or doing the trendy folded glove to hold the evidence thing! Put gloves on people! And yes, tie that hair back and ditch the heels!

  3. ejoanoc says:

    Yep – TV is great for entertainment but not for reality! My fave pet peeve, which has put me off a number of shows, is political correctness.

  4. Well said. More grit, less glam!

  5. Alison Bruce says:

    One of my favourite bits in a crime show was in Luther when the eponymous character tells a younger detective to put his hands in his pockets. It will keep him from automatically reaching out to touch something. The crime scene people, of course, are covered head to toe in white paper suits which will also be bagged and tagged before they leave the scene. Which reminds me of Hot Fuzz which was totally over the top comedy and still managed to handle forensic investigation realistically.

  6. Caro, I’ve found that too. The European mystery shows are much closer to the truth. WHY does American tv have to sex up simply everything??

  7. Lisa, I’m going to look for that glove thing from now on 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  8. Nancy O'Neill says:

    It ALWAYS bugged me on CSI Miami when the female CSI knelt beside the body in her WHITE pants and got up without a smudge of dirt or drop of blood on her!

  9. dead2writes says:

    Can I leave a pet “fave” instead of a pet “peeve”? One of my favorite all time lines, oft-repeated in my childhood TV watching, was from Peter Falk, when Columbo would leave a room after questioning the bad guy. Invariably, he would begin to close the door, duck his head back into the room and utter, “Just one more thing…” As an 8 and 9 year-old, I would thrill, knowing the revelation was hanging in the air.

  10. denisewillson says:

    You said it, Mel! Spot on. I’m not entirely sure why networks feel the need to sex things up, overdo violence, fake sex scenes, and bend reality. Reality, in my experience, is capable of triggering emotional responses all on its own.

    Great post!


  11. Catherine Astolfo says:

    I believe some people are simply sitting in their chairs, thinking not required, eating dinner at TV tables, sleepy and maybe even brain in pause mode, watching programs that, if they did think about them, would drive them crazy given all the ridiculous errors, but they are simply sitting there munching on their dinners…oh wait, I think I’m looking in my own window again.

  12. Nancy, you nailed it. In the lab world, we had to contend with eager young women hoping to become lab techs just so they could be at crime scenes as per CSI Miami. “It ain’t like that” was the first disappointment.

  13. Dead2 – I totally remember that! I would say that is iconic. Thanks for commenting!

  14. Dee, the thing that strikes me is: readers won’t accept the things that tv viewers will. If we err in our crime books, a swath of irate emails will come our way. Thanks for commenting!

  15. Catherine, that scares the hell out of me. Stepford viewers? The world is becoming a scary place. Thanks for commenting!

  16. Rita Bailey says:

    You nailed it Mel! The cleavage and heels drive me crazy. That probably explains why I watch British crime shows. Give me a cop in a bad suit any day.

  17. Rita, I’m always cheering when I see the cops – like on Vera – put on booties at the crime scene. I’m with you.

  18. Kevin Thornton says:

    Among the many things that vex me one stands out. American TV is known for treating its viewers as idiots but the amount of needless exposition seems to take up half a show. How many times have you heard this, or something similar?
    “Captain, I’m running the fingerprints through A.F.I.S.”
    (Pause while the Captain scratches his arse and looks intently at the screen.
    “That’s the Automated Fingerprint Identification System.”
    “R-i-g-h-t. We sent the prints to the F.B.I as well. . . The Federal Bureau of Investrigation.”
    “Good. Well while you are doing that I’m going to get a mocha latte.”
    “That’s the chocolate tasting one.”

  19. Tanis Mallow says:

    Oh Mel, you always make me laugh!
    Another thing that drives me crazy is time lines – it takes a long time to get DNA tests back especially in overwhelmed/understaffed jurisdictions.
    And if you think those things drive us writers crazy can you imagine how real police officers, lab techs and hospital personnel feel?

  20. Amen, Tanis! I worked in the hospital/lab world for 20 years, and I can tell you I am driven crazy (didn’t have far to go) by writers who don’t do their research.

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