Thursday, May 04, 2017

Leitmotifs, tag lines, and a question for readers

In Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy novels, it's the protagonist checking under his car for mercury tilt switch bombs. In Fred Vargas' Debout Les Morts (translated as The Three Evangelists), the glue is merde, in its various semantic and syntactic forms--that, and the tag line "il haussa les épaules" ("he shrugged [his] shoulders.")  And Max Allan Collins' Quarry novels always repeat the protagonist's back story, the part about his return from Vietnam to find his wife involved with another man whom he kills in a particularly creative manner and about the reason he avoids prison for the crime.

I've written before about leitmotifs in crime novels, what they contribute to a book's texture, its feeling. (This is not the sort of thing one often reads about in discussions of books.)
Max Allan Collins
"Leitmotifs in fiction are more than quirks," I wrote, "less than plot elements. A leitmotif should, according to a definition of leitmotifs' use in music, be "clearly identified so as to retain its identity if modified on subsequent appearances." Used well, it indicates an author in control of his or her material, with a firm idea of what kind of story he or she wants to tell. Leitmotifs might not come to mind right away if someone asks you what happens in a given novel, but they are part of what a novel is about, part of the world it creates."
Now it's your turn: What are your favorite tag lines and recurring motifs in crime novels or stories? What do such refrains add to a story?

 © Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Blogger Dana King said...

Elvis Cole’s Pinocchio wall clock. Cole and Pike get into some seriously dark stuff, and Cole sometimes gets as down with it as Pike. The clock shows that his nature is not to be that way and reminds the reader that Cole fights against his darker impulses all the time, he just doesn’t always make a big deal of it.

May 05, 2017  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a good example, though I have to say I found the light move convincing than the dark in the one Robert Craig novel I've read.

May 05, 2017  

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