Beware the Bimbo Sleuth

Early January is list time–resolutions, good intentions, tax forms to get, etc. Here’s one of my lists: Things I Don’t Like to Find in Mystery Stories.

Anonymous_Gun

1. Bimbo sleuth–a sexy female amateur who breaks the law to show us how inept the professionals are; (When she’s not meddling in police procedure, she has a job that would otherwise bore her to tears. Often she’s a widow or a divorcee, mother of one snarky teenager.)

2. A police official cast as the bimbo’s Significant Other; (He–almost always the professionals are male–will have two responses to her, annoyance and smarmy forgiveness.)

3. Sex reduced to recreation or manipulation so that the S.O. won’t be mad at the bimbo for meddling in his investigation; (These folks never run out of libido or hot showers, often together.)

4. Plot slowed by insignificant obstacles, like wardrobe failures, rain, running out of wine; (It’s like untangling fishing line or yarn, time consuming with little payoff.)

5. Man-eating pythons; (Yes, I did find one of these. Yuk! Where’s the human element in that?)

6. A host of named minor characters who are otherwise indistinguishable distractions; (They buzz around like mosquitoes.)

7. Reliance on classic mysteries for decoration; (Let Ms. Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle RIP.)

8. Shallow characters, self-centered, jealous, and/or insecure; (The bimbo is often well-known in her community for her crime-solving rather than for her quiet, generous   contributions to society.)

9. Static series characters who never learn not to open the cellar door; (Or the closet, the shed, the garage, wherever that gun-toting, axe wielding baddie might lurk.)

10. Empty dialog that fills the word count but does nothing to advance character development or plot. (Blah, blah, blah.)

Reading at Random

Every week I shop the new-book shelf at the library, almost always finding half a dozen books that interest me. Occasionally, I make myself branch out from my preferred mystery-as-escape selections. I start at the biography section and I check to see if there is new poetry. This week I found a  biography of Sylvia Plath, American Isis, which a friend had recommended, so that went into the bag, along with a memoir by Jacob Tomsky, Heads in Beds, his insider account of the luxury hotel business. Add a memoir by a Kenyan writer, a book about water shortage and misuse, a Sidney Sheldon novel that proved to be too gory for my taste, and a delicious history of cooking utensils by Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork. Just for to avoid an ugly withdrawal, a mystery, Marjorie Eccles’ After Clare.

My random selections most often run about 60/40 worth reading to DNF (did not finish). I like the surprise of discovering a new read. But, ah–you knew there was a but, eh–after reading about Plath’s very purposeful reading habits, I feet a little guilty. Sure, she went to Smith and I didn’t. She did her graduate work at Cambridge and I didn’t. (Of course, she also committed suicide and I . . . well, obviously.) I have known about the books mentioned in that bio, and I now regret my promiscuous reading habits. Then I skimmed materials I’m gathering for teaching a fall semester course on the techniques of contemporary poetry. There, like a jury of my peers, I faced the accusation of having been dissolute in my reading. It’s a long list of poets to master. If I start at the beginning with Caedmon (c. 1000) and read through the English language poets I’ll be brain dead before I finish. Then there are those to read in translation, Akhmatova to Tsvetaeva. Too much, too much, I have to go lie down. With a good book. Or ten.