Mistakes in Mystery writing, do they drive you nuts?

Black words on dark grey background 'make no mistakes'I’m not going to shame any particular author, or book, but there are some things that authors get wrong in crime books that seem to drive people to the brink of murder.

I do as much research as I think is feasible (I’m not writing a thesis after all), and you can get a lot of information on by Googling that you can rely on. Government sites are great, as well as official club sites.  But sometimes I think authors make assumptions. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that they don’t realize there’s a different way something would work.

Then there are the things we all do that are “wrong”, but we have to tell a story.

Weapons – it seems the most cardinal of sins

I have to agree with the people who get upset with the author who can’t be bothered to do some basic research on weapons. This is something you can check so easily with a Google search or a visit to a gun club (for those of us who don’t live in gun happy countries), or a gun shop.

As authors we need to know that some guns can’t shoot rapidly, some guns don’t have safeties, and specific guns have specific names.  On the same topic, we need to use the right term. Not everyone calls a gun a gun, often they are called weapons by the experts.

Using the wrong titles for the different roles involved in detective work

A mystery author needs to know whether a detective will show up or a constable, or an officer, or a sheriff. Will the autopsy be done by a coroner or a medical examiner? Is the morgue in the basement of the hospital or a separate facility?

It sounds so complicated, but it’s not that hard. While it doesn’t raise the furor that a poorly executed gun fight will, it can still annoy readers.  If you have a sheriff in a detective novel set in British Columbia, for instance, they had better by driving prisoners around because that’s what they do here. And knowing whether you’ll be dealing with the municipal police, or the RCMP is as important as knowing the difference between the FBI and the local police department – except the RCMP might be the local police.

The things that seem like mistakes, but are license

So, you’ve probably heard about the CSI effect. This is the difference between movie/tv/book processes and real life.

In real life, DNA tests can take months. In real life, a medical examiner/coroner won’t test for every poison or drug known to humankind – nor will they guess the cause of death or time of death at the scene. In fiction, the timelines have to collapse and the extraneous details need to be stripped away. The story can take place over weeks or months, but the pacing needs to be tight.

The important thing for authors to remember here is that no matter what happens in their story, it needs to feel real.

My personal favorite

This isn’t confined to the mystery genre, but it drives me crazy when people are chatting in the story and divulge all kinds of information that would get them fired and possibly thrown in jail in real life.

What are your personal bugbears in mystery books? Is there something authors do that sets your teeth on edge?