Sunday, July 29, 2007

Errors that drive you nuts

Ken Bruen heads one chapter in Ammunition with a quotation from Marc Lepine, "before he massacred fourteen female students at Montreal University."

In fact, I believe Lepine killed thirteen students; one of the victims was a university employee. And the school's name is University of Montreal, not Montreal University. (Think the switch makes no difference? Tell a Princeton University graduate that he went to the University of Princeton, or a University of North Carolina alumna that she went to North Carolina University.)

On the plus side is Ammunition's argument between Brant and Porter Nash over who wrote "The First Cut is the Deepest":
"Know who wrote that song?"

Without hesitation, Porter said:

"Rod Stewart?"
... 
Brant laughed, said:

"Fucking money from a baby, money for old rope ... it was Cat Stevens."

Porter felt he already had the twenty in his wallet ...
Cat Stevens ... yeah, right.
I loved this because I recently had the same discussion with someone, though in less colorful terms. Like Brant, I was right.

And now, readers, what errors, little slips in detail, drive you nuts?

P.S. Apparently I am not the only one with this question on my mind. It's a Crime! (or a mystery...) has just posted a dispatch about the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival that mentions a panel called Getting it Right, "about the need for accurate detail when setting novels in the past." It's important for novels set in the present, too!

© Peter Rozovsky

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19 Comments:

Blogger pamos1949 said...

Your citation of a musical example brings to mind my conviction that fiction writers, and not just in the crime genre, mind you, should steer clear of classical music unless they are exceptionally knowledgeable in that area. It rarely has the ring of truth where character is concerned, and musical details can be deadly. I recall one Dick Francis novel in which a concert pianist supposedly specialized in Haydn's piano concertos, works of no great significance, only two of which are ever likely to be programmed, and specialization in which leads to the poorhouse. And elsewhere I remember a character who said he went to a New York Symphony concert to hear Dvorak's Slavonic Dances. One or two maybe programmed as filler, but no one goes to a concert specifically to hear them. No, classical music can be deadly for the musical tyro. But for a wonderful exception to all this, do seek out Cyril Hare's old masterpiece, Ill Blows the Wind. Judge Hare knew his music and came up with a plot that depended on it.

July 29, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the note, Pamos. That's an interesting category of error for a writer to make. I suspect that Francis and the other writer fell into the trap of pasting labels on the characters' foreheads rather than writing the damned characters.

I can think of two crime movies, if no crime fiction, in which concert music plays a role: The 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much and the recent The Beat That My Heart Skipped. The former worked for me musically, probably because Bernard Hermann both composed the piece that plays such a central part in the movie and portrayed the on-screen conductor. There was no nonsense about an orchestra playing Beethoven or Wagner to create a mood.

Among the reasons I disliked The Beat That My Heart Skipped so strongly is that I did not believe a long-out-of-practice pianist who had never played professionally could achieve concert-caliber proficency so quickly.

I've had a number of discussions here about music and its uses in crime fiction. None has involved classical music, but the question of writers who use music as a lazy way of labelling a character has come up from time to time. (The posts and their follow-up comments are here, if you'd care to take a look: http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/search/label/music)

And thanks for the Cyril Hare recommendation. I have a few favorite classical pieces, but by no means do I know classical music. I'd look forward not so much to a music lesson from Ill Blows the Wind as I would to immersion in a fictional world about which I know little.

July 29, 2007  
Anonymous CFR said...

One novel recently drove me nuts and I managed to read the first 60 pages only. I have a list of reasons, but lack of adequate research is one of them. The author had someone travelling by bus in London, from Sloane Square to Knightsbridge and er, managing to cross a bridge in the process. Wrong direction (to come across a bridge) and you can walk it just as easily. By the time we had the protag's dog uplifted from London to a foreign land within a period of less than 24 hrs, to outside the EU, so no pet passport even possible there, I'd completely lost it. I'm not mentioning the book or the author as some might be more generous than me when it comes to that level of detail.

This next one did not drive me nuts as the book itself is excellent - Michael Robotham's The Night Ferry - and I highly recommend all three of his novels. Robotham has the ability to catapult you into another world for a reading experience that you'd want to make one sitting if at all possible.

But in The Night Ferry he introduced a Welsh couple from Cardiff, very minor characters. She was twice as wide as her hubby (entirely possible). He was called Bryce. (I've never come across anyone in Wales called Bryce.) She addressed a female character with the word "pet". (No, never in Wales. Newcastle, yes. Wales, no. It would be "love".)

That amused me more than anything. Robotham now resides in his home of Australia, having lived in the UK for some years and he sets his books in the UK, mainly London, although The Night Ferry took us to mainland Europe too. One small error in a bumper packed ride of thriller - I can let him off!

Alas someone else knows London and the practicalities of moving dogs across the globe like a butcher knows neurosurgery. That did drive me nuts and I threw the book down.

July 29, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Well, brains are eaten in some places, so perhaps some butchers do know neurosurgery of a certain rough kind. But your example is a perfect specimen of the kind of error I had in mind. Moreover, the author could have avoided it easily with a bus trip through London or a glance at a map. Even if he or she is not from London, a visit to a library or a search on the Internet could have averted the mistake.

I should add that the error in Ammunition did not drive me nuts, possibly because it was restricted to a chapter heading. That error is probably on par with Michael Robotham's. But had it occured -- and recurred -- in the body of the story, it might have bothered me more than it did.

Hmm, now that I think of it, "love" seems to be more common than "pet" in the fiction I read. The first author I remember using it is Bill James, and he's from Cardiff.

July 29, 2007  
Anonymous cfr said...

Not read Bill James, I'm afraid.

I recently heard something I've not heard for years. This is partly due to living outside Wales for more than a decade. But it's still alive. Welsh men may address other Welsh men as "butt" or "butty", more usually "butt". The expression remains alive and in current use.

Wonderful stuff to grab the local culture!

July 29, 2007  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

One of us must be doing a mind reading act because I too am reading a book that has several annoying niggling errors that ruin the atmosphere of the story. While the novel has several major plot concepts I find totally bizarre. This author is a veteran thriller writer, and I can't quite see how he came up with this plot without someone pointing out to him the faults.

July 29, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

With one exception, the Bill James novels I've read are part of his Harpur & Iles series, which is set in an unnamed British city, almost surely English, probably in the southwest. But he has another series set in and around Cardiff. Perhaps men call each other "butt" in those books. Do you know the origin of the word? Could it be a version of "buddy"?

I have spent some time visiting and traveling with English people in the past year, and I have heard them address each other (and me!) as "love," but never "pet."

July 29, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Uriah, I commend your tolerance and forbearance in not revealing the title of the book in question. But what types of niggling errors does the author make, and how do they affect the story and your reading?

July 29, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

I suspect that pamos is referring to Francis's Nerve, in which the main character's family is unreservedly musical, while he is not. I think the two he has in mind are the parents of the main guy, and they're barely introduced in the books at all; I don't think his father ever speaks, and his mother may have two lines.

I'm not familiar enough with classical music to have caught that error. Now, if it were a screwed up pop or rock reference...

July 29, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

A crime writer would be less likely to screw up a pop or rock reference, I think, because rock and pop are a part of more people's lives than is classical, for better or worse. Of course, that makes it easy to use rock and pop as cheap labels, but that is -- and has been -- a problem for a different blog post.

July 29, 2007  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I totally agree with cfr with regard to "Sloane Square to Knightsbridge" such errors spoil any atmosphere a story might have built up.
My current read has in my opinion not only fairly major idiosyncracies in the plot, but minor niggling errors in the "University of Princeton" class.
For instance trying to identify a body form the "orthodontic" evidence will be rather difficult. I think the author was trying to sound American and use the US terminology for restorative dentistry, prosthodontics.
I am fairly sure no American would talk about wanting to be a major league basketball player. He would say I want to be an NBA player. These errors make one wonder about the amount of thought that has gone into the novel and in some way draw attention to the more egregious errors.

July 30, 2007  
Blogger pamos1949 said...

I think Linkmeister is correct in identifying my Francis reference as Nerve. I read only two Francis books, and that title rings a bell. And undoubtedly errors in the area of classical music are owing to the general ignorance of the field that prevails today. But I think in general that, if authors are not absolutely sure of their footing in a field, they should keep out of it. I remember a quotation in Barzun and Graff's Catalogue of Crime to the effect that misidentifying a smashed vase as Ming matters not much in itself, but if your plot depends on that vase being Ming, you would do well to get it very, very right. Better always to play it safe. No reader wants to be brought to a jarring halt, even by the inconsequential. One matter that has not been addressed here is an obvious one: Where are the editors? Thirty years ago I read a review of a book by Mario Puzo which the reviewer said cried out for the return of the editor. That's how long the old-fashioned, caring, shaping, advising, checking editor, antennae ever aquiver, has been all but gone. With honourable exceptions, what we have now are promoters, often of themselves, the equivalent of the music industry's A and R people, and increasingly slipshod products.

July 30, 2007  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

My comment should have read "identify the body from", not form.
Just poor editing caused by the trauma of mentioning a dental topic.

July 30, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Uriah, you're right. No American would talk about wanting to be a major-league basketball player. He (no women in the NBA!) would say, as you suggested, "I want to play in the NBA" or "I want to be a pro(fessional) basketball player." My guess is that the author is no sports fan. There's no shame in that, of course, but, as pamos asks, where the hell are the editors?

That's where I come in. I've never worked in publishing, but my understanding is that editors in that field fall into two categories: acquisitions editors and copy editors. I have read that publishers have de-emphasized copy editing, with results as predictable as the ones in my field, newspapers.

Pamos quotes Barzun and Graff to the effect that if your plot is going to hang on a vase's being Ming, you'd better be sure to get it very, very right. Failing that, I'd say, you'd better be sure that your editor or copy editor gets it very, very right for you. Publishers of newspapers are reducing that possibility every day. Book publishers may be doing the same.

Identifying a body from "orthodontic evidence" would strike me as odd, too. How many murder victims are likely to be wearing braces or a retainer? And what would be unique about such appliances?

July 30, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Uriah, I'll forestall one possible question right away. We in North America refer to those over-the-shoulder straps with which some gentlemen hold up their pants as "suspenders" or, less commonly, "braces." But "braces" are also those bands worn round the clock to straighten the teeth, usually of adolescents. In the days when those bands were commonly of silver-colored metal, they inevitably earned the wearer the nickname "Tinsel Teeth."

July 30, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

There are still some good editors around, but they may all work in SF.

If you have an interest in a community created by a couple of them, you should check out Making Light. The blog owners are high-level editors at Tor, the SF powerhouse.

July 30, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for that note, Linkmeister. I'll take a look at that blog and maybe even let those blog keepers know about this discussion.

July 30, 2007  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I have found a real clanger that proves to me that the editor, if there was one, was fast asleep when they were supposed to be reading this effort.
Do authors actually read a proof copy of their own books before they are produced, or don't they care what kind of nonsense is published under their names?
I am reviewing this book for Karen at Eurocrime therefore I will retrieve it from the waste basket, and carry on reading till the end.

July 31, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Uriah, I cringe for the poor author when I think of the review you'll write. Yes, the author, because the writer will end up taking the heat for what the unnamed editor should have caught. This tease of a comment of yours makes me want to read the book to see if I can catch the errors and if they bother me as much as they did you.

And it's a tease for your review, too, which I'll read as soon as I find out about it.

July 31, 2007

July 31, 2007  

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