Something that tends to come up in critiques is that the viewpoint character isn’t sufficiently involved, that they are not in danger, that they don’t have enough at stake. I see where this is coming from. If the viewpoint character doesn’t care what happens, why should the reader? But the character may care very much, without being in personal danger. And  one can surely write from the viewpoint of a character who is unsympathetic, and then why should one care what happens to them anyway?

Then you have the classic detective story. OK, maybe the hard-boiled private eye, who generally gets knocked on the head so often they must have serious brain damage after a few years in the business, and is motivated by getting paid, has something at stake – not only the pay, but the likelihood of getting bumped off.

The police detective is presumably also motivated by getting paid, but they don’t have to be personally involved in solving the case, generally it’s surely better if they’re not. And surely, also, the chances of getting bumped off are relatively low.

And then Sherlock Holmes – the model of all disinterested detectives – granted there are a few stories in which Holmes and or Watson is attacked, but there are a lot more where they’re not. There are quite a few where it turns out no-one’s in danger at all. Solving the mystery is the object of the exercise. What Holmes has at stake is his reputation and intellectual satisfaction; Watson, the usual viewpoint character, most often has nothing at stake at all.

There are many detective stories where someone has something at stake – they are suspected, or accused, or even convicted, and want their name to be cleared. But almost by definition, they’re usually not the main viewpoint character. There is the scenario where a murderer must be tracked down before they kill again – but the detective is not often the most likely next victim.

I have wondered if this insistence on personal jeopardy is responsible for one of the things that irritates me most about many recent detective stories that I’ve read. The detective, amateur or professional, has to be assaulted at least once, possibly several times. They must be in danger of death at some point. Frequently because they have taken the murderer somewhere quiet to tell them they are a suspect. Sometimes to the top of a tall building. I mean, what??? I’m sorry, can you see Holmes or Miss Marple doing that?

And then there was the successful series of crime thrillers that I started reading and enjoyed, only for my suspension of disbelief to finally snap as, increasingly, every crime the investigator had to deal with seemed to be aimed at her or her friends and family. And after a bit, every crime anywhere, whether in her jurisdiction or elsewhere. All crime was part of a conspiracy against her friends and relations. That isn’t what I’m looking for in a detective story. I want an interesting mystery, preferably with a not-too-sympathetic villain, who is unmasked by a detective who is there for their detective abilities, and not because their private life is the target of every villain in Christendom and beyond.

I fear, however, I am a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Pass the locusts.