24 November 2018

ACK Not Again! Five Crime Series Plots that Deserve to Die

You have to admire the Brits.  If they have a successful crime series, they don't automatically grow it
beyond one season (Midsomer, excepted.)  But the trouble with most crime series filmed, and also successful crime series in print, is they go beyond their best before date.  And by this I mean, they start to run out of plots - healthy original plots - and search madly for something, anything they haven't done before, including things that have been done to death <sic>.  The following tropes drive me crazy.

1.  The protagonist sleuth is the murder suspect.
By far, this one has me fired up to throw things.  Inevitably, every long-running series has one episode where the Detective Inspector, the PI or the well-respected amateur sleuth, becomes the prime suspect for a murder well into the series.  Into jail they go.  They've done it with Father Brown.  They've done it with Don Matteo.  Hinterland.  You name it.  Whenever I see this happening, I grit my teeth.  Why?

That plot is boring, man.  Obviously, they didn't do it.  If they did, then it is 'series over'.  And it can't be series over, because there are several episodes left, or a new season to download, and I can see that right on the screen.  So all we're doing is tediously waiting for the sidekicks to get proof that our beloved protagonist didn't do it.

2.  The protagonist and/or sidekick is held hostage.
This is the second plot trope that has me screaming Italian curse words at the screen.  This month, it was Don Matteo and Rosewood.  You can name others.  And again, this is boring. If they are all killed and don't get out, end of show.  But there are more episodes, so they obviously get away.  If we know the ending at the beginning, what's the pleasure in watching?

3.  The police officer protagonist is hated by his immediate superior.
One of the reasons I like Endeavor is because Morse's boss Thursday is such a good guy to young Morse.  In so many shows, including the original Morse, the detective superintendent or chief constable behaves like an out-of-control teen, lambasting our hero with manic fury.  He hates the protagonist, for no good reason we can see.  Or is it that he is so insecure, he can't stand someone who makes him and his department look good?  How demeaning.  By all that's holy, make this stop. 

4.  Young female sargeant has affair with older boss.
Okay, we all learned in the 80s and 90s: you don't have an affair with your boss.  It's stupid. It's career-killing.  It's also unethical, if he's married or you're married.  And yet, time after time we see this on the screen.  STILL.  IN 2018.

I cringe, because it perpetuates the ancient stereotype that young female police officers are not serious about their jobs.  They are slaves to their emotions.  They are willing to risk all for romance.  Writers, DON'T take me back to the seventies.  Just don't.

5.  The male Detective Inspector invites prime female suspect/witness to a romantic dinner.
Similar to the 'affair with the boss' above, this scenario gives high-ranking police officers I've talked to apoplexy.  No police officer is that idiotic.

Look, we all understand that tension is ramped up if there is personal involvement.  But come on, writers!  Don't make our extremely professional boys (and girls) in blue look adolescent.  It's insulting.

Just do the right thing.  Tell us a damn good story. And wrap things up before you sink to these tropes.

Melodie Campbell writes seriously wild comedy. You can find her latest crime books (The Bootlegger's Goddaughter and The B-Team) at all the usual suspects.  See this latest ad in Mystery Scene Magazine.   www.melodiecampbell.com


  1. Excellent points, every one. Others which bothers me is the protagonist getting knocked out or loses his weapon or fails to pick up the machine gun from the guy he just killed as he goes after others with machine guns with his pistol.

  2. Amen on the plot points.

    I am afraid you are right, though, that success demands more stories and eventually, out come the deadly half dozen.

  3. O'Neil, I need to add those to the list! So true.

  4. Janice, love 'the deadly half dozen!' Yup. It's a sign that the writers have 'jumped the shark.' (I think that was Happy Days, wasn't it?)

  5. Great post, Melodie.

    Another variation of the protagonist as prime suspect is the best friend/girl friend/boy friend/partner. I came close to that in one of my books, but I think I got away with it.

    The only way these plots can work now may be if you treat them as satire. Or maybe as a musical?

    Yeah, there are only so many plots, but still...

  6. I think you just provided everything I need to plot my next story...

  7. Steve, yup - the partner/friend as the suspect. The protagonist then has a stake in the outcome. This is a trope in the cozy mystery line. Because why else would some gal risk their life investigating, when there is no obvious gain? I love the satire idea. Planning my next crime comedy right now...

  8. Michael - laff! You beat me to it. I should have ended on that line.

  9. Good stuff. I stopped watching BLUE BLOODS years ago when they violated rule number 2. THere was an article in MYSTERY SCENE magazine yeas ago called, I believe "This Time It's Personal," complaining how if a series (TV or books) goes on long enough, every friend or relative the hero has gets killed.

  10. You named one of the things I like most about Endeavor. His relationship with Thursday. Great post.

  11. You are so right - the one that got my ack! Award was an episode of NCIS LA where every episode the good guys were flak vests - until the one where they want Sam to be seriously injured - and then they charge is with gus blazing - and not a vest is site.

    My second Ack Award goes to cozy mysteries set in a B Y B or small Inn....these have been done to death (pardon the pun.) And usually the site has been inherited by the protagonist!

    Branch out people.

  12. Rob, that's hilarious. Wish I had read that Mystery Scene article. I wonder if Game of Thrones got their plots from it>?

  13. Mahrie, I'm laughing at the small inn being inherited - ALWAYS - and was the previous owner knocked off? Have to investigate! I think we could do a whole blog post on cozy mysteries alone.

  14. Temple, thank you! I think Thursday is one of the best characters out there. Flawed, but in ways that are sympathetic. Not the same ole drinking problem, ho hum.

  15. Amen, Melodie!
    #1 - I switched off "Endeavor" when the young Morse got put in jail, suspected for something or other, (end of series 2) and never turned it back on again.
    #3 - This is the main flaw with Donna Leon's "Inspector Brunetti" series. The boss is a complete and total ass to everyone, begging the question how he ever got the job in the first place.
    And I hate, hate, hate, hate it when - having run out of all other ideas, apparently - the author decides to kill off the detective / police officer / dearly beloved spouse to up the ante or whatever. (I'm looking at you, Elizabeth George.)

    And, speaking of machine guns, as O'Neil did - why on earth do they always show all these guys with machine guns blazing who can't hit a single person, even in the frigging arm, while the cop can pull out his pistol and - while running - shoot the machine gunner dead? Credulity stops there.

  16. And LInwood Barclay! (Killing off spouse, to allow protag to have a romance in the next book) And yes, Liz George.
    Would you believe...I skipped that episode of Endeavor, and went on to the next season? Did the same with Don Matteo. I now read the promo blurbs for each episode before watching.


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