A Sense of Humor So Bad It’s Criminal

Crime Stories by J.A. Konrath.

I’m a member of the #WritingCommunity on Twitter. There we learn to support fellow writers and give positive reviews whenever possible. It’s supportive and inclusive and welcoming. It’s a great place to be a writer. Unfortunately, not even that training can cause me to give this collection of short stories a positive review.

A preview: it sucks.

While I understand writing humor is difficult, and very few writers do it well: John Steinbeck, Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiassen, and maybe John Updike it is a skill very few master. While many of those who do it well happen to write crime novels, they usually don’t write one liners as their meat and potatoes. Konrath, on the other hand, seems incapable of setting up a joke or of developing a funny situation.

Of the twenty entries in this collection there are probably only about fifteen stories and only two of them aren’t attempts at humor. Those two verge on quality, and reminded my why I love crime fiction. The rest, however, I strongly disdain.

Several of the entries weren’t even short stories. Three were puzzle stories with the answers printed afterwards, like Sunday morning newspaper fodder. Several were essays sprinkled with one-liners. And one was simply a list of gadgets from James Bond movies with one-liners as to alternative uses. I skipped most of these, hoping there might be more of the early serious entries that appealed to my sense of noir and pulp.

Let me explain how I came across this book. It was not of my choosing entirely. I’m low on funds and thus struggling to afford actual books—whether digital or physical—and thus must turn to my library back in the States for digital loans. I typed in the word “crime” and this is the first thing that came up. The rest didn’t quite seem like they fit in the desired genre so I choose this book. I’ll not make that mistake again. Apparently the old adage, “you get what you pay for” applies to library books too.

Konrath has published several books, I think in the “humorous” crime genre (notice how I don’t use Konrath and “humor” in the same sentence unless it’s with quotation marks), which means I will steer clear of anything else he has written if at all possible. My library stocks a large quantity of John Sandford novels available in ebook format. I think I’ll focus on those. I’ve at least read part of one of his books and know his style is serious.

At least Lawrence Block used to write erotica. He knows how to arouse emotions. Raymond Chandler made humor dark and dry, like a martini, and managed to woo readers with it and his hard boiled narration. Elmore Leonard created humor with the understatement and the hyperbole interchangeably (the only reason Get Shorty was funny as a movie was because it used dialogue straight from the book). Konrath seems to think he’s running a stand-up gig on paper and his timing is off.

Maybe he knows how to write straight humor, or maybe he was hamstrung by the short story format. I don’t know. I don’t intend to find out. All I know is that I do not recommend this collection. One and a half stars . . . and I’m being generous.

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