I don’t approve of hacking or censorship, but I certainly can’t blame North Korea for wanting to punish the makers of “The Interview,” a truly wretched film. In my previous blog I mused about how a good mystery inspires readers to get through life’s hardships with style and humor. Though it’s not a mystery, “The Interview,” takes the opposite approach, resolving a tough situation with stupidity and thuggery. Like a bad episode of “Family Guy,” the “Interview” is filled with poo jokes, flippant cruelty, and unneeded graphic violence, which makes the audience feel dirty and dispirited. It’s a textbook example of what a good mystery writer must struggle to avoid – getting the balance wrong.
One of the hardest things to write is a carefree mystery or thriller, mixing crime with humor. If the piece is too funny, there’s no real threat, no possibility of suspense. If the work is too grim and graphic, the humor is no longer funny and comes off as crass and distasteful. “The Thin Man,” is shining example of getting the mix just right, which is one of the reasons why it has endured. Not too much violence and the threats to heroes Nick and Nora aren’t so awful as to render joking inappropriate. By the time “The Shadow Of The Thin Man” comes along the writers have lost their way and the balance is gone – no longer sly and sophisticated, Nick and Nora become full-fledged sociopaths, joking about a brutal murder at film’s end, which plays out right before their eyes. In today’s world, where extreme acts of violence are acceptable to portray in movies and books, this balance is even harder to maintain. It’s certainly a challenge for me because my novels don’t hold back in this regard, but I do insist that my protagonists take a few moments to be properly horrified or saddened before they start wisecracking.