The author of Jess Castle and the Eyeballs of Death talks to Crime Time: Humour makes everything better – most folk agree on that. A wry smile improves a rainy wait at a bus stop, a dull afternoon at work, a funeral. But crime fiction? Is there room in a dark mystery for a joke?
Well of course there is. Humour is a nod from writer to reader that we both agree on something. It can be a comment on the absurdity of life, or a character’s turn of phrase, or an unexpected way of looking at something ordinary.
Crime fiction is all about the unexpected. As writers, we strive to outrun the reader, so we can swerve suddenly and lead them somewhere they didn’t expect to go. Humour does exactly the same thing; every joke told by a comedian is an over-turning of the status quo.
In the Jess Castle series, our protagonist is clever but irreverent; Jess can’t help making light of the dark murders that overrun her home town, Castle Kidbury. She doesn’t lack empathy, and she’s deadly serious about finding the killer, but when confronted by a crucifixion in the town square she turns to humour to get her through. We’re all familiar with the phrase “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry”. In crime fiction, we get to do both.
There’s a lot of truth in comedy. Sometimes the only way to display an unwelcome fact is to roll it up in a gag and lob it into the air. We loved writing the dialogue for Jess because she’s fearless and confronts hypocrisy wherever she encounters it. However, without a soupçon of silliness she could become insufferable. It’s hard to truly love a character who has no humour at all. We can admire them, yes, but to want to return to them again and again, we need to enjoy their company.
Having said all this, we did find ourselves removing some gags during the editing process. Just to make sure that the mystery element didn’t become buried beneath the light hearted stuff. Because a book is just like life – it needs a little bit of everything to make it work.
Jess Castle and the Eyeballs of Death by MB Vincent is published by Simon & Schuster