A lively discussion is going on at David Montgomery’s blog, provoked in part by his preliminary list of favorite (and not-so-favorite) PI cliches:

  • The psycho sidekick who does the dirty work so that the hero can keep his hands clean.
  • The detective who’s a gourmet cook.
  • The detective who drives a flashy car. (Would you really try to tail someone in a Ferrari or Shelby Cobra?)
  • The detective as social worker — not only does he solve your case, he heals your soul.
  • The detective who’s a gimmick instead of a character: he loves Bugs

    Bunny, he’s got OCD, he’s a leper, he’s a left-handed transsexual, he

    thinks he’s from Mars, etc.

  • (I’m using “he” to make it easier, but all of these would apply to female PI’s as well.)

My favorite comment is Keith Snyder’s: “As for cliches, I think that’s kind of like asking whether McDonald’s sucks. Well, yeah… but sometimes you want fries.” You can insert your own favorite junk food metaphor in place but his take, as well as the general sentiments of the gallery, keep bringing me back to my favorite question: why. As in, if there are so many cliches to be sick of, why do writers keep falling back on them? Why do readers clamor for them? Why do publishers prefer them instead of so-called “original” ideas and execution?

This subject strikes a nerve with me now because even though I’m keeping up my prolific reading habits, I’ve been fantasizing about what it would be like not to read because so much of what I’m reading is mediocre, or can’t make me suspend my disbelief, or has a fatal flaw, or whatnot (which is also why, aside from Typepad being a pain in the ass, I haven’t been updating the sidebar nearly so frequently as I used to.) But then along comes a book – I’m reading one right now, in fact – that hits the right grace notes, where any semblance of cliche fades in favor of a great voice or the element of surprise.  Maybe it’s a matter of adjusting the tuning fork, or making the PI love electronica instead of jazz….