Geschrieben am 9. April 2011 von für Crimemag, Kolumnen und Themen

Bill Moody: Jazz’n Crime

Bill Moody ist Jazzprofi mit erheblichen Meriten und Kriminalschriftsteller von Rang. Seine Romane um den Jazzpianisten Evan Horne, der hin und wieder in kriminelle Malaisen rutscht, genießen Kult-Charakter.

Heute geht es um Plausibilität & um Evan Horne, den Jazzpianisten mit der detektivischen Ader …

Plausibility in Crime Fiction and Film

William Somerset Maugham

I think it was Somerset Maugham who said “there are three rules for good writing.” He also said, “Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.” Maugham may be right, but there is at least one rule necessary for convincing, realistic crime fiction and film: plausibility, particularly with an amateur sleuth.

My first editor, Michael Seidman told me he’d stay out of my way, that it was my book, but he also said he’d be ready to point out places where he’d ask the inevitable question: “Why didn’t he just call the police.” It’s a point I took to heart with the Evan  Horne series. How or why would a jazz pianist get involved with murder investigations.

If the protagonist is a policeman, a private detective, an insurance investigator, or even a newspaper reporter, there’s no problem. With any of these occupations no justification is necessary for them to pursue and solve a crime, and use their training and skills. An amateur requires something more.

If, for example a school teacher’s brother, sister, wife, husband, or other family member goes missing, or is murdered, and the police fail to pursue the investigation to the survivor’s satisfaction, it’s easy to understand that the protagonist’s anger, frustration, and motivation would be enough to drive him or her to pursue answers on his own. Such a pursuit would put the hero in danger, and cause him to draw on skills and knowledge he probably doesn’t have. Things such as police procedures, familiarity with weapons, and investigative skills are generally beyond the scope of the average citizen, as are appropriate actions for such pursuit.

The reader will buy such skills or special knowledge only if the writer has established early on this average citizen has such skills. If our school teacher hero shoots his way out of trouble later in the book, or defeats bad guys with Karate, it’s the writer’s job to show early on the hero had knowledge and skill with guns, or holds a Black belt.

All too often, as the book ends, the hero suddenly acts in a very un school teacher way, causing the reader to think, hey, how does he or she know so much about guns? It’s fine to have the hero act bravely or fearlessly as long as the writer has prepared us.

An excellent positive example is the movie Black Rain, starring Michael Douglas, as a NYPD detective. In very early scenes, we see the Douglas character engaged in skilled, fearless, even reckless motorcycle racing in his off duty hours. He even rides a motorcycle to work. At the end, when the action moves to Japan as Douglas pursues a killer who got away, we’re not at all surprised, or more importantly, disbelieving, to see the final chase scene on motorcycles.

A more subtle kind of plausibility happens when the character does something that has nothing to do with skill or knowledge, but simply causes the reader to think, would she really do that?

In the film Jagged Edge, Jeff Bridges plays a wealthy publisher accused of murdering his wife. Glenn Close plays his attorney and eventually gets him acquitted and falls in love with her client in the process, but there’s one hitch. Throughout the trial, she receives anonymous helpful notes typed on a manual typewriter with, of course, one damaged letter. Nobody can trace the typewriter.

Celebrating the trial results, she stays with Bridges at his lavish estate. She awakes late, and Bridges tells her to come down for breakfast. But first, she decides to change the sheets. She goes to the linen closet (how does she know where the sheets are kept?) and low and behold, finds a manual typewriter.

She quickly types a few words and of course, he relevant letter appears and she suddenly knows it was Bridges who sent the anonymous notes, and more importantly, that he’s guilty.

The suspect typewriter must be found to complete the plot, but is changing the sheets the first thing a woman would think of after spending the night with her lover, especially when there are maids to handle this chore? Why would she do that? It’s just not plausible.

In the Evan Horne series I had to be particularly attentive to plausibility I wanted to write about jazz, but how could I convincingly put a jazz pianist in jeopardy and survive? Why would the police seek his help in solving crimes, and why would he agree to help?

In seven books, Evan Horne has yet to fire a shot, or even hold a gun. He has no real knowledge of police procedures, so I gave him a homicide detective as a best friend, and an FBI agent girl friend. Both guide and caution him as he becomes embroiled in various criminal adventures.

Horne does have special knowledge because of his occupation: extensive knowledge of jazz, which ironically, helps him and the police in investigations. He also knows how to improvise, which is the very essence of jazz.

The best example is in “Bird Lives”. A serial killer leaves various clues alluding to jazz at the crime scenes that puzzle the police and eventually, the FBI.

Horne’s detective friend goes to him for help to assist the FBI. Because Horne knows what the clues mean, he saves the puzzled FBI, untold time in eventually tracking down the killer. Horne becomes the conduit between the killer and the police, when she discovers Horne is consulting for the FBI.

Evan  Horne’s skill and knowledge of jazz is what gets him involved in crimes, but ultimately, helps him not only survive but also successfully assist the police in solving the crime in a plausible way.

Author of FADE TO BLUE
Bill Moody beim Unionsverlag
Bill Moody: Biography by AllAboutJazz
Porträtfoto Bill Moody (Michael Oreal)
Bill Moody: »Jazz Fiction: It Don’t Mean a Thing – If It Ain’t Got That Swing«

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