Friday, March 29, 2013

Unpardonable puns

I like puns. I really do. Puns, to me, are not a low grade of humor, as some people seem to think, but a high form. Intelligent people come up with the best, most original puns.

So I am not sure why I so strongly detest puns in the titles of mystery novels. Here are some examples of the many such books now available:

Naughty in Nice

Quilt or Innocence

Book, Line and Sinker
Fowl Prey

The Real Macaw

Hearse and Buggy

Death of a Rug Lord

Deader Homes & Gardens

Let It Sew

Suture Self

Hiss and Hers

Grape Expectations

Last Wool and Testament

Bell, Book and Scandal

Read and Buried

Murder for the Halibut

And Then You Dye

Bone Appetit

Reel Murder

Tiles and Tribulations

Pies and Prejudice

Roast Mortem

Reap What You Sew

Hell Hath No Curry

As the World Churns

You Better Knot Die

Deviled Eggs

Sew Deadly

Threaded for Trouble

Splendor in the Glass

Fleece Navidad

Dyer Consequences

Books Can Be Deceiving

Immaculate Reception

The  Wurst Is Yet to Come

Hiss of Death

I have not read any of these mysteries. They may be better than their titles, but I don't intend to find out. Why do I dislike these titles so?

It may have a lot to do with the fact that there are so many of them. I also avoid novels with titles like "So-and-so's Daughter,"  simply because they are so numerous. These titles may at first appear to be clever and original, but after awhile they all sound alike. One gets the impression that some of these writers start by trying to come up with a good pun, then build their story around it. Just as people who pun all the time can quickly become tiresome, so puns in book titles can quickly become a bore.

I have no objection to comic mysteries, but a pun in the title just seems a little too flippant to me. These are stories about murder, after all. Somebody dies. If the detective is a bumbler or if the investigation leads to some funny situations, I'm all for it. But a pun in the title reflects on the whole situation, including death itself.

The best, most respected mystery authors rarely, if ever, resort to puns. I'm talking about people like Donna Leon, Laura Lippman, Arnald Indridason, Loren D. Estelman, Joan Hess and Edna Buchanan. Intelligent people can up with some good puns, but intelligent people should also know when to avoid them.

1 comment:

  1. Hate to break it to you, Terry, but Joan Hess' book titles are FULL of puns: Strangled Prose, A Holly Jolly Murder, A Conventional Corpse, Dear Miss Demeanor, etc. OK, some aren't exactly puns, but they are PLAYS on WORDS or POPULAR PHRASES.
    The majority of mysteries with puns or plays on words/phrases in their titles are known as 'cozies' or ‘cozy’ mysteries. In these mysteries, the major focus of the book is not on the murder or grisly details of the mangled body, but is more on the people involved, especially the protagonist and/or the people surrounding the person who ends up dead. There is very little violence (beyond the original murder), or gritty depictions of "real" life, i.e., beatings, drug dens, gangs, drug lords, et cetera. Most of these mysteries are written by and for women. Look at how most of these have occupations or hobbies geared toward women in them: knitting, crocheting, quilting, sewing, librarians, running bed and breakfasts or inns or coffee or tea shops or mystery book stores. The readers – and they are legion – have enough “real” life in which they are already immersed; they want a world into which they can escape for a short while, somewhat exciting, but populated with people they can care about and empathize with.
    Yes, all the authors you mention write good, solid books. Outside of Arnaldur Indridason, and unlike you, I’ve read all the other the authors you mention. Um, perhaps before you condemn an entire genre of books, you should sample some first?