Okay, after the very interesting discussion Steve started with something dumb someone said on the internet, I’m going to use something here that I stole from the internet that I think is smart.
In a discussion on Adrian McKinty’s blog, I forget where the discussion started, but like all good conversations it went off on a lot of tangents and at some point, a guy named “Richard L” posted this:
The trouble I have with most genre fiction is that the bad guy is the projection of the Other. In older westerns, the Other was the fierce savages. The Huns became the Other in World War I genre fiction, then the Nazis. Raymond Chandler wrote some novels in which the Other were pornographers, off-track gamblers, and marijuana smokers--all tame stuff today.
In recent times, the Other of choice is most frequently the serial killer, or as is the case in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, rapist child-abusers. Whenever a novel begins with some hidden secret in the past, and it turns out to be incestuous child abuse, it is like saying the butler did it.
There is another way to proceed, without cliche, but it requires recognizing the truth of our common animal nature and also the truth of our common humanity. Not too many novels published today do that, but there are some.
In the best crime novels, the protagonist discovers the greater complicity.
I like that, the greater complicity.
In Steve’s discussion about morality in crime novels my contribution (such as it was) was that because laws change all the time (booze is legal then illegal then legal again) and different places have different laws (prostitution is apparently illegal in Las Vegas but legal a certain number of miles outside of Vegas but then illegal again in the next state) we can’t rely on laws to set any kind of moral standard and that’s where fiction comes in.
With crime fiction we can see moral boundaries being stretched and we can see consequences. Which I think is a lot more interesting than laws being broken – or not broken depending on where and when the story is set.
But even stretching those moral boundaries can become cliche.
So, is Richard L right, is the only way to avoid cliche if the protagonist discovers the greater complicity?