Wednesday, July 13, 2022

IS YOUR DETECTIVE SAD?

 


RHYS BOWEN:  When I saw this on Facebook I knew I had to blog about it. 

I found it really funny originally. No, my detectives are quite happy and positive people. Constable Evans was a likeable chap who enjoyed a beer and a game of rugby. Not sad, not a drunk, not a womanizer. Molly Murphy and Lady Georgie are both optimistic and easy going. 

Then I realized that they were both female. The terms on this map apply to male detectives and whoever did the map seems to assume that all detectives are male. 

 No, most female detectives are not sad. They are not drunk. They are not sex fiends. They are ordinary women, often juggling home and career. Molly has a two year old son who needs her attention, as well as a husband and adopted daughter. Deborah’s Gemma Jones is always having to juggle family and job, so is Julia’s Claire Ferguson. Hayley Snow has just had a wedding to think about as well as dead bodies. Jenn’s female detectives are always having romantic entanglements and other complications of everyday life. 

 So maybe we’ve hit on the big divide here: male detectives are often loners, anti-social, no family to keep them grounded. Female detectives are usually in a relationship, have relatives whom they care about, have friends who are part of their lives. In short they are mentally stable human beings! 

I can think of some male detectives who don’t fall into the sad/drunk category: Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks has family problems, Debs’ Duncan is a terrific family man. So who else? And when we come to foreign detectives, especially Scandinavian, well—classic sadness, I’m afraid. So am I right? Is it the male detectives who are bad at social relationships and the female detectives who are good at them? 

Classic male v. female in fact? I am always urging my husband to connect more with male friends, but he doesn’t. I, on the other hand, try to make time to fit in all my friends. We women need to be loved, surrounded by those we care about, don’t we? And men only connect when they are doing something—on the same team, same project. I asked my son-in-law, a really gregarious sort of chap, if he ever met up with friends just to chat, over a cup of coffee. He shook his head. He had different friends for different pursuits: one for bike riding, one for golf, one family connections with their kids. So I suppose this is typical. 

As I write I can already think of exceptions: Vera is a classic loner. DCI Tennyson, not the warmest on relationships. So I’d love to know your take on this.

62 comments:

  1. I can honestly say this is something I never considered; now I wonder if this might be a result of societal expectations? Generally, we’ve tended to have an expectation that boys will be stoic while girls will be caring and nurturing. Perhaps we've taught our boys to ignore their feelings [that is, we say, "Boys don’t cry"] while expecting our girls to be nurturing and supportive in a relationship, hence the "will your detective be sad" query . . . .

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    1. Joan, one of my university professors once told me that it is harder on a man when his wife dies because the wife is usually the person who maintains social contact. I was surprised because I thought it was harder on a woman when her husband dies.

      Diana

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  2. I can't imagine either Vera or Tennyson having a girls' night out!

    You're onto something here, Rhys. I just watched an old British TV series, Murders in Suburbia, starring Caroline Catz (Louisa on Doc Martin) as a DCI along with her blonde female partner. And they were refreshingly upbeat, always cracking jokes, flirting with their boss, and being kind to suspects, while still solving the murders. Completely the opposite of the tough as nails men on most crime series.

    Sadly, Murders in Suburbia only lasted two seasons, probably because Catz got the role as Louisa.

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    1. Karen in Ohio, thank you for reminding us. I caught Murder in Suburbia on britbox tv.

      Diana

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  3. Interesting topic, Rhys. My female sleuths are all social and functional, and I've managed to marry off the last three. I can also think of a couple of fictional cops who are family men, Gamache being one, and Kate Flora's Joe Burgess.

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    1. Edith, hank you for the reminder. Yes, Gamache is a family man. And I agree with your comment.

      Diana

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  4. Hmmm, the male and female Icelandic detectives I enjoy reading have sad investigators, mostly due to family troubles as the series progress. And Rebus in Scotland is a heavy drinker who likes to be alone. But I agree that DEBS' Gemma & Duncan don't fit this trope at all.

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    1. GRACE: Agreed with your comment. This is why I usually read cozy mysteries with happier ? characters.

      Diana

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    2. You only like empty shell happy books?

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    3. ANONYMOUS: Although your question is probably directed to Diana and/or Rhys, I can certainly say that I don't read mysteries expecting happy stories. I am fine with reading grim stories with violence and characters experiencing pain, anger & grief. I also need the characters to be more realistic, and to develop/change in a series to keep reading. But like Judy, I can't seem to read so many grim books in a row. I read a range of thrillers, hard-boiled, and cozy mysteries.

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  5. Cracking up at the breakfast table looking at the map. "Sad and wet" really got me chuckling.

    I guess the map-maker was onto something. Maybe that is why Gamache stands out so dramatically from other male detectives. As does Billy Boyle! It is also why I don't pick up Michael Connelly's Bosch series and read one book after another, and I like the books and the character but... too much angst. On the other hand, I can read your Royal Spyness books cheerfully, from book 1 straight through to the end of the series.

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    1. Bosch has a dark cloud over him all the time!

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    2. That's why Gamache is so popular--because he's a real person, a decent man.

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  6. Funny map Rhys! For sure the Icelandic detectives are a grim lot. And Jimmy Perez is not very cheerful either! I agree about Harry Bosch, though I do love that guy--he was one of my first detective crushes. I'm just now reading Sarah Stewart Taylor's newest--her Maggy D'Arcy can be sad, but she has good reason--a teenager, a stalker, deaths in the family.

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    1. Yes, but making the teenager the focus of the books has made them a parody of book1. She needs to move on from the repeated family dramas and focus on the mystery aspect. I didn’t like book two and I’m giving book three a pass.

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  7. I deliberately set out to make Jim Duncan in my Laurel Highlands series NOT the stereotypical sad, drunk, male detective. Sure, he's divorced, but he's a generally upbeat guy, not alcoholic and looking for the right woman. Add Pete Adams from the Zoe Chambers series from Annette Dashofy as a "functional" man. As a reader, I'm burnt out on the sad male detective.

    However, I point out that the detectives from near the Med are not sad, they are sexy. Perhaps it is not so much gender as geography? LOL

    In my personal life, it is The Hubby who has all the friends and constantly going out: golf, volleyball, breakfast, etc. I tend to make friends slowly (Virgo trait?). When my kids were little, I was shut out by a lot of the moms because I didn't live in the "right" neigborhood. Therefore, most of my friends tend to revolve around writing and are far-flung enough that I don't see most of them more than once a month.

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    1. Liz, I hear you in being 'shut out' when your kids were little. I was much older than most of the moms, didn't live in the neighborhood, etc., made it hard to find playmates for my nephews.

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    2. LIZ: I love that you set out to make Jim Duncan in your LH series NOT the stereotypical sad, drunk male detective. Adding your books to my list. Agreed that as a reader, I am burnt out on the stereotypical detectives.

      It is these moms' loss because they never got a chance to get to know the wonderful person that you are! My mom went through a similar experience because she was NOT Deaf, even though she signed. The other moms of my friends were Deaf from Deaf families. There was one Deaf mom who was a friend to us because she and my mom both were teachers.

      If these moms only wanted to be friends with people who live in "wealthy neighborhoods", then these people sound very shallow to me.

      Though I could kind of understand if it meant having to drive hours to your house from where they lived And it was not environmentally feasible. My friend's Deaf mom who also was a teacher lived in Concord with her family. My family lived near Berkeley. Yes, we drove through the Caldecott tunnel to the other side of the mountains. And they drove to our house. The Deaf community is very small so it meant greater distances of driving if friends lived in different places.

      I remember a classmate whose parents used public transportation. They could drive but they did not want to add to the air pollution. They maintained contact with other families who lived in the same neighborhood because they could walk from their house to friends' houses.

      Diana

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    3. Flora, yes. The kids all got along great and it was fine to play with each other in school. But I never could figure out why they wouldn't let their kids play with mine out of school. Well, yes I could. I wasn't from "their neighborhood." And I worked a full-time job, which many of them did not.

      Diana, you are so sweet. Thank you. Once they got to high school (where kids came from all over the city) I spent several years driving across bridges and through tunnels so my kids could hang out with their friends. Although again, none of the moms seemed to want to make the effort to hang out with *me*. Sigh. I hope you enjoy the LH books!

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  8. Hilarious map! Cara Black's Aimee Leduc is a "spinning plates" detective and mother, scrambling to care for her child and keep her business afloat. I wouldn't call her sad. Martin Walker's Bruno Courreges cares for the people and lifestyle in his small Dordogne town. Not sad, but expertly works the system to protect his rural community.

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  9. Inspector Montalbano (Andrea Camilleri) is functional, albeit a type of flamboyant Italian anger. The Sjowall-Wahloo inspectors seem steady and functional.

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  10. Celia here - Male English detectives seemed to come to mind, Peter Whimsey marries as does Albert Campion. Though I admit they had long lives as singles too. Then Dalguish? (Spelling)! But I do seem to read a lot of mysteries with women detectives though not all married. Just remembered Donna Leon’s detective, happily married so I guess it’s ok to have him in the sexy area. I think I’m taking the map too seriously so time to do some work.

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    1. Celia, I too am taking this “to work”… mainly dishes to wash and vacuuming … so fairly certain my brain will continue to work on this. Elisabeth

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  11. I love the map, but of course can think of examples that contradict it: Bill Slider (after a divorce early on) is a wonderful family man and even his womanizing sidekick, Atherton, seems to have settled down. Donna Leon's Brunetti (admittedly in a 'sexy' country) has a wife and children in whom he delights (along with wonderful food) and who keep him grounded. Dalziel is drunk, but not sad and Pascoe is a solid family guy. I stopped reading the Rebus books after awhile. He was just too drunk and sad and dysfunctional for me. I recently picked up a more recent one and Rebus seemed to have made some positive changes. I'm reading the Cork O'Connor series by William Kent Krueger. Cork is a decent guy who loves his family and is there for them. The real detective in my life is sad sometimes and a bit lonely, but never a drunk. Even before he retired, he filled his time off with playing banjo in bluegrass bands and flying airplanes and he has always been there for our son.

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  12. But what about the authors of those books, male or female? Does that account for the differences? In Vera's case is does not, but what about others? Our Reds are female and most of their characters reflect that. I'm not too familiar with European authors and characters, although I have read some.

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  13. This topic has me wondering about the Charles Todd detectives — Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford. Created by a male/female team, both Bess and Ian seem very sad and often cold and wet, inward turning, cannot remember Bess’ drinking habits, but Ian’s drinks some times to silence Hamish. Once again, generalizations lead directly to many, many exceptions. Both Julia’s Claire and Russ have/had turned to alcohol for escape. Thanks for getting my brain churning this morning, Rhys. Elisabeth here.

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    1. Elisabeth, that may be a touch of realism. There's a noticeable amount of alcohol abuse among both police and clergy. Although to tell the truth, it surprised me that Clare was an alcoholic. I honestly didn't know until I realized she was picking up a glass every time she was stressed.

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    2. Julia, so agree with the realism. Super-human perfection is expected from clergy and from law enforcement. Thank you for “pulling back the curtain” with not knowing everything about your characters until some little habit reveals a new aspect. Elisabeth

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    3. JULIA: Aren't there any detectives who eat sweets when stressed instead of reaching for an alcoholic drink?

      Diana

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    4. Neat thing about search engines, they can answer all kinds of statistical questions!

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  14. Can't speak to all detectives, of course, but it seems the male/sad/drunk/cigarette huffing/sour faced detective was a victim of his times and occurs less and less in today's literature. Spencer was on the dark introspective side, but not a drunk, and there are a few other sad sacks, Bosch is a loner, Elvis Cole is darker, but somehow, when I read these books, they seem to be throwbacks to the tropes of a different time. Do I need to expand my reading?

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    1. In the old days those men never had good relationships. The only women were dead or in bed!

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  15. Zen is an Italian police detective who can get a bit low when his relationships don't work out, but he lives with his mother! I enjoy the tv adaptations as well as the books written by Michael Dibdin.

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  16. Am I the only one thinking I need to read more mysteries set in Southern Europe? I like the idea of sexy detectives!

    One of my favorite series has a man at the center who is all about his family; Kent Krueger's Cork O'Connor. And I agree with Kait - while there are still lots of sad alcohol abusing loners out there, it does feel like a relic from the '60s and '70s.

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    1. JULIA: Yes! It does feel like a relic from the 1960s. Diana

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  17. This is an interesting questions! I don't mind a sad detective unless that sadness has become so central to the character that it cannot be resolved or developed. Misery is a trait that does not compel me to buy the next book. There are contemporary versions that I find compelling enough to send me back to the racks:
    Banks has all the makings of a sad old guy who drinks but Banks has developed over the course of the books. I always think he has a future though I must admit, were I ever to meet him, I doubt he would be my favourite person.
    Rowling Sinclair who is sad, but not miserable and who I hope is given the opportunity to develop in the future.
    Cormoran Strike, who I think is way too miserable for way too long, but I keep hoping that he'll come out of it soon. I will probably take the next one from the library rather than buy it but would happily forgo it if this character continues in the same trajectory.
    Perhaps one of the most entertaining is Thomas' King's Dreadful Water. He has that kind of "why me?" thing going on, but he is drawn with King's flavour of irony and is fun to read.

    I can think of a few female protagonists who might be considered "sad." V. I. Warshawski, maybe. I think well-drawn female characters who struggle are more complex than most male characters who seem to accept, maybe even dwell in, their misery. Contrast Mary Russell and King's Sherlock Holmes and then King's Holmes to the original. I would say that Mary Russel is serious, not sad. Sure, Mary Russell has some sadness, but King has used that as a source for character development and created a complex character. Her Holmes isn't at all sad, while I think the original Holmes is often suicidal.

    For pure pheromone production, give me Zen, and in this case, I'll take the TV version. For an in-your-dreams life mate, give me Wimsey.

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    1. brain burp...Rowland Sinclair, not Rowling Sinclair.

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    2. VI has become a sad sack punching bag, and no longer is a believable character. She has way too much punishment and no joy. The writing is great, but the books are always a downer. I quit the series two books ago. Reviews reflect the same pattern in the newer books.

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    3. I'd recommend the most recent Cormoran Strike, Troubled Blood. It ends on such a positive note that I wonder if Rowling intended it to be the last Strike book.

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    4. And Mary Russell has a family, a background, a back story that make her interesting. Sherlock Holmes has always been annoying to me.

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  18. RHYS: This is a great post! My take on this is that you are right on target! I just remembered that John Barnaby from Midsomer Murders is happily married. I only read one of Caroline Graham's books, though I love the TV series on Britbox TV. I remember that in an interview Caroline Graham said that she was tired of seeing male detectives who are sad, divorced, womanizers, drunk or all of the above! She wanted to write about a detective who is happily married.

    And I love all of your books. First love was the Constable Evans series. l like cozy mysteries where people can be happy. The characters do NOT have to be perfect, though it is always great to see likable characters whom you would like to have tea with in real life.

    And I saw this map on Facebook. I remember that Alexander McCall Smith created a Blanche Noir in his new Detective Varg mysteries about a Swedish detective. Not as dark as other Scandinavian detectives, though.

    This morning a bookstagram friend on IG was talking about UNlikable main characters in cozy mysteries. I could not think of anyone except Hercule Poirot who could be hard to like sometimes.

    Regarding men and friendships. I think it is also a personality thing. A friend's father, who died this year at the age of 93, was very sociable. He was meeting his friends for lunch every month until a few weeks before he died. Another friend's father is like Doc Martin (not as sociable) and he prefers to build things instead of being sociable.

    These days it is easier to stay in touch with friends IF you are comfortable with social media and maintain contact regularly. And IF you are comfortable using a computer and maintain contact through email or if you are comfortable using a smartphone with text messaging, then it is easier to maintain contact. If you do not have social media, I think you need to be well organized and have a rolodex or an address book where you can find it, then you can maintain contact with friends. And it is a two way street. Sometimes someone has to do all of the work and maintain contact. I remember being surprised when an acquaintance told me that it is so hard to contact me because I am Deaf. That was in the old days BEFORE the advent of user friendly computers, before the advent of social media. I was the person who always had to reach out to friends on the teletype writer for the Deaf and go through a TTY to voice Relay service OR if a friend had a TTY, then I could call that person directly.

    Now I can contact my friends through emails, text messaging and once in a while on social media. My friends can easily contact me through emails and text messaging. Some of them have social media and some do not.

    Sorry I am late to the party and this is such a long comment!

    Diana
    Now with social media and email, it is easier to maintain contact.

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    1. Yes, email and text has made communication so much easier, although the younger generation rarely phones any more. It's all brief texts. I think the art of conversation is being lost.

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    2. Although I am from the "younger generation", I have a tendency to send very long texts on my smartphone. Perhaps it has more to do with my Deafness than my age?

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  19. Sorry about the editing error above. I thought I ended the comment with my name then I see I forgot to delete that last line after my name. Oh well.

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  20. Very thought provoking, Rhys! I think the common thread, whether male or female, the "detective" needs to have more than "it's my job" as their reason for solving the crime. And it got me thinking about my favorite female detective pair: Scott and Bailey. Unwanted pregnancies, philandering spouses, unstable brothers... and on it goes, complicating their lives and eventually turning the murders they investigate into something personal. Sad/happy somehow doesn't feel like the right spectrum. (Miss Marple and Poirot have literally ZERO internal angst or joy, as far as I can tell)

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    1. Poirot is a cardboard character, isn't he? Miss Marple a little more complicated although we know nothing about her. I think now we want characters to have private lives just like ours, so we can identify with them.

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  21. This is fascinating, Rhys. From a women's fiction rom-com writing perspective, I wonder how much of it is reader/editor driven. My editor is adamant that my female protagonists must be sympathetic/likable and even when I chafe at the absoluteness of this, the reviews prove it out with readers absolutely losing their minds if the female protagonist isn't 100% likable all the time. Ugh. I wonder if it's our societal expectation that women must always be pleasant and not make a fuss and it carries over into our writing. Hmm...

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    1. Yes, societal expectations are reflected in literature! I would read a more real female character happily! I think many readers do not read in the romantic genre because the characters seem so unrealistic.

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    2. A very good point, Jenn. Vera is an exception--she's often quite unlikeable, although I think she's more sympathetic in the books than in the TV series.

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    3. I think you're right, Jenn. A lot is editor-driven. My editor of my stand-alones always wants my characters to show more emotion. I point out they are British! But it does say something of our society that it wants women to smile and be nice all the time and if we're not then we're called a b***h.

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  22. Maybe this is why I read more books with women main characters. I don't want to read all that depressing loner stuff.

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  23. This is fascinating, Rhys. My first thought was geography and culture, not gender. But it's interesting how things shift. I was rebelling against the lone, male, drunk detective trope when I first had the idea for Duncan--and rebelling against the job-only, no relationship, hard female detective trope with Gemma. But those types of characters are more the exception than the norm these days. Even in Scandinavia! I've just read a ARC for a novel set in Copenhagen. The male detective is divorced but is a very involved father, is not a drunk, has lots of friends, and wears very nice clothes:-)

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  24. Interesting. I never gave this much thought, but it does seem to be the case that most male detectives have a panoply of social problems, from Sherlock to DeMille’s John Corey. My fictional police/detectives are not drunks or tightly laced, but some are, to one extent or another, “corrupt.” My real life experience as a cop with NYPD, way back in the day, cops/detectives men and women (although there were fewer women back then 1965 - 1970s) were social within the “blue culture.” Police socialized with police, men and women, families with families. There was no sexual tension between male and female parters, they were just partners. I was a single full time dad with a 4-year old daughter and a 1-year old son. I juggle a ton, my tight supportive social groups of police and other friends help a lot. So I wonder if the divide is between those meeting outside demands and those that do not respond to outside demands, and, the fact that generally women are more responsible for juggling and therefore are more likely to embrace friendships. Although, even now as an old guy I still have a close group of friends (12 or so) that meet once a month for dinner and chat, as well as some distant boyhood friends.

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    1. What interesting experiences you have to write about!

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  25. What an interesting post, Rhys. I have to admit that I'm not a fan of depressed, alcoholic sleuths. I don't mind if the main detective has problems he or she has to sort, as I want the stories to be realistic. But, the always tortured soul who is alone and miserable seems a stunted character to me.

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  26. I had the SAME reaction. At first I thought it was hilarious. Then, you know me, I started overthinking. Along the same lines.And, as Debs said, about stereotyping culture and geography. I read a lot of psychological suspense, where everyone is damaged and most people are unlikeable. (Huh. Describing that now, it's sounds pretty grim.) A lovely man? Ah, Anthony Horowitz in his brilliant brilliant Horowitz and Hawthorne books. But damage makes people more intersting, doesn't it? Something to overcome?

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  27. I enjoy mysteries where the family life of the detective is part of the story line. My favorites are Gemma and Duncan, but I also like Antoine Verlaque (M.L. Longworth) and Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti.

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  28. Wow! Interesting to see the old stereotypes are still alive and kicking!

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  29. KATHY BOONE REEL! You WON Leslie Wheeler's book! Email me! YAY!

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    1. Yay! I will email you now, Hank!

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  30. Oh come on! Even considering just men, Jimmy Perez is sexy! So were Roderick Allen, Alan Grant, and sometimes Peter Wimsey!

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