Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sex and other failures.

I'm asked to send my publicist a thousand-word excerpt from This Private Plot, so I select a couple of sequences that are self-contained and spoiler-free. Only afterwards do I realize that they're both centered upon misplaced nudity. (Or, to be more accurate, misplaced clothes.)

I'm happy to write "cozy" mysteries. It's my dream to win an "Agatha," the top prize for cozies given at the Malice Domestic conference, since the MWA's Edgars tend to go toward the hard-boiled end of the spectrum. A cozy is typically characterized as having most of the "unpleasantness" take place offstage, whether it's violence or sex. In that earlier post, in which I tallied up eight murders so far in my published career, only three unfold in the real time of the narrative, and two of them are that cozy-safe method, poisoning.

In This Private Plot (one death by hanging, offstage but on cover) I also have a little deliberate fun with the second convention. It's a running gag that Oliver, who is determined to carve his first notch on the virgin bedpost of his teenage bedroom, is constantly thwarted every time he gets close to a moment or two of intimacy with his steady girlfriend, Effie.

But that's okay, as are the number of characters who seem to lose their clothes during the narrative.
Because it's also a "Traditional British" mystery, and for my generation, frustrated sex and lost trousers are neither tragic nor titillating but just plain embarrassing . . . and therefore a potent source of humor. Or humour.

Here's an extract from the book, which explains it. Oliver is consulting criminal expert Dr. McCaw of St. Basil's College, Oxford, to help him figure out what victim Dennis Breedlove may have done to attract the attention of a blackmailer:
Dr. McCaw thought for a moment.

“Sex,” she stated.

“Sex. Why?”

“Because whatever happened in the past still bothered Breedlove to this day, to put it mildly. And sex is the only thing the British fixate on forever . . ."

She took a sip of tea. “It doesn’t apply to the Europeans,” she continued. “They have an adult acceptance of sexual mores. The American attitude to sex, on the other hand, is positively infantile. But the British, as in so many things, are bang in the middle. They stay mired in their adolescence. They can’t stop thinking about sex, but they never get it right. That’s why the British can be funnier about their sex lives than any other nation.”
 Let's hope so, anyway.

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