Dark. Gritty. Bloody. Brutal. Disturbing. They’re all words that come thick and fast in crime book reviews – thanks to people like me. But a few recent releases caught my eye because the words ‘humour’ and ‘comic’ were in the blurbs, sometimes alongside the more disconcerting stuff.
It made me think about the number of times I laughed aloud during Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy. It’s almost as dark as they come, but the author portrays police life realistically and a bit of humour is part of everyday life, even in a murder investigation. Detective Carl Mørck’s irreverant quips, and inate if misguided sense of superiority, are both funny and ironic. Kidnapping and keeping someone in a compression chamber is no laughing matter, but Mørck’s Syrian assistant wearing green rubber gloves and cooking curry in the basement of the police station in the middle of Coppenhagen – how can you not giggle?
Author Chris Ewan has proven himself adept at weaving comedy into his crime stories. His most recent, The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice, is the fourth such book he’s written. “It’s all about striking a balance and the tough thing about writing comic crime is that it can be painfully obvious when the balance is wrong,” he explains. “My own feeling is that it doesn’t pay to try and poke fun at the really dark stuff. In my books, when a murder occurs or Charlie Howard stumbles across a dead body, he doesn’t crack funnies.”
It’s funny because it’s true
Mike Argento’s approach is to pluck humour from everyday life. A news journalist for 30 years, he’s covered the crime beat, and seen criminals who are bad, and some plain bad criminals. They appear in his fiction, and he sure has some stories to tell. “I once wrote about a guy who tried to hold up a bank at the drive-through window. In another bank robbery in which the perpetrator stopped for gas a block away from the bank,” says Argento.
His latest book Don’t Be Cruel focuses on a real-life gangster who believed he could use Scientology mind control techniques to take over businesses. Argento continues: “Once he had the business, he would take out insurance on the principles and have them knocked off. In one case, his hired hands tried to kill this one guy eight times and failed every time. In one attempt, his crew put a bomb in the guy’s car, but had forgotten to reconnect the battery when he was through. In another, they blew up the guy’s garage. In my book, the gangster founds the First Church of Elvis, Scientist, to try to accomplish the same thing. I started with that premise and it sort of spiraled out of control from there.”
We call it dark humour
Adam Pepper too uses humour in writing and Skin Games is his latest release. It’s a Romeo and Juliet-style love story in which the daughter of a mob boss falls for man-with-principles Sean O’Donnell. You can see the potential for both comedy and tragedy in that.
“I always bring cynicism and a dark sense of humor to my work. I hope the reader experiences a full range of emotions. Laugh, cry, cringe, cheer,” he says. “The primary object is to entertain, and the work is purely fiction, but still there is a small piece of my worldview in SKIN GAMES. Sometimes, things just don’t go your way in life, but instead of feeling pity or defeat, you get back up and face the world.”
We also asked the authors we spoke to, for their recommendations when it comes to crime fiction that rolls in a bit of comedy. A few other Crime Fiction Lover contributors and site visitors have also shared their views and we’ve put together a little list of authors that might make you crack a smile – or laugh out loud – while you enjoy your favourite genre.
Do you like crime books that are laced with a bit of comedy? Why, or why not? Have you read any crime books that – on purpose or not – made you laugh out loud? Tell us what you think below.