Death Brackets: The Clichés of Crime

The Death BracketIt’s March and that means madness. And one thing that makes me mad is tired old tropes in the mystery genre. You know the ones: flat, cardboard characters and recycled plots that have worn out their welcome, or at least need to go on an extended vacation.

Now is your chance to make your voice heard. Below you’ll see the top eight worst offenders in the overused crime cliché category. Time to figure out which causes the most madness among readers.

Sure, some may still work, but some may be so tired they need to be taken out back of the shed and shot. Of course, you may like some and will never tire of them. Then get in there and vote! Defend your favorites and vote to exile the ones that burn your eyeballs!

Timothy Olyphant
UnJustified. Timothy Olyphant in Hitman.
1. Hit Men vs. Serial Killers
As protagonists go, these have certainly been two of the most popular. But is it time for them to go? Read enough thrillers and you’d be tempted to think that killers lurk in every shadow and that everywhere you go there is a rifle scope peering down on you from a high building. Maybe these two cliches should only appear as often as they do in real life—which is almost never. But you decide which is targeted for death.

Robert Downey Junior in Sherlock Holmes
Are you tired of Sherlock?
2. Riding the coattails of Sherlock Holmes vs. “One Last Job”
Using Sherlock Holmes as a jumping off point has become quite popular lately. Really the granddaddy of all detectives has never gone away. But is relying on a century-old character cheating?

And what of that fabled “one last job.” As soon as you read that, don’t you assume it’s not going to go very well? Which of these needs to be dropped from our bookshelves?

Booze and the Private Eye
You know it’s overdone when books have been written on the subject.
3. The alcoholic P.I. vs. Old school Italian Mafia
It seemed for a time in the 1950s that the only kind of P.I. around was the alcoholic. And undoubtedly there has been some great fiction to come from the soused gumshoes, but maybe it’s time for the old boys to dry out a bit.

And despite the efforts of the Italian American anti-defamation league, we still like our mafiosos to be greasy, Brooklyn-accented goombahs who smell like Nana’s meatballs and break knees like a Corleone. Question is, which one do you like better, the meatball or the drunk? Or should they both be eliminated?

Dead Crow Cake
Giving new meaning to *eating crow.*
4. Paranormal Crime Solvers vs. Culinary Sleuths (who share recipes)
Not as tried and true or time tested as the alcoholic P.I. or the Mob Boss, but in recent years the fantasy crime solver has become a mainstay. Be they witches, warlocks, seers, soothsayers, vampires, werewolves or just ordinary citizens who can see dead people, might it not be time to come back to reality for a little while?

And I used to think a winery, a bakery or a cheese shop would be among the safest places on earth. Not so, according to the rash of food-themed murder mysteries lately. Really, if I wanted to read a recipe, I’d have bought a cookbook.

So get in your votes for the goner in each bracket down in the comments section and next week we’ll have our final four who can battle it out to see who makes our top two and, ultimately, our top spot for who needs to cool it and go away for a while.

We’ve closed this first round and moved into Death Brackets FINAL FOUR.

crow cake image from listverse

Eric Beetner is the author of Dig Two Graves, Split Decision (Book #3 in the Fight Card series) and co-author with JB Kohl of One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. His award-winning short fiction has appeared in Pulp Ink, D*cked, Off The Record, Grimm Tales, Discount Noir, Needle, Murder In The Wind and the upcoming Million Writers Award: best new online voices. For more and links to free stories visit


  1. nigel

    I could lay into that dead-bird cake – looks yum.

    I’m not sure if I’m doing the right thing, but I’d be getting rid of:

    the serial killer, Mr Holmes and the Mafia. Course it depends on doing the writing.

    and the last set, not a clue. the toss of the coin says i’d boot out the culinary.

    so, left in for me are hitmen/women; alcoholic PIs; paranormal and hte ‘one last job’

  2. Laura K. Curtis

    1. Hit men have to go. Serial Killers are probably even more cliched, but I think some are still being written well.

    2. Gah! Enough with the one last job already!

    3. Huh. A tough one. I guess I am more tired of the mafia.

    4. Hmmm….I’d say no new culinary sleuths…as long as we can keep the ones that are still around!

  3. Clare 2e

    In all of the “tired” tropes, I can think of series and characters I adore, so that just shows what a hackneyed chump I am. Still, if I’m allowed to vote….

    1) Get rid of Hit Men, because I think there are more different kinds of things that authors can do with serial killers as a class of baddie. There’s more scope. (ha! sniper joke)

    2) One LAST job goes, no contest. I never believe it any more than the characters themselves. I like it best is when the “last job” is also supposed to be the first, and occasionally, when a terminally ill hitman goes on a final spree.

    3) I am tired of the mafia. Think Sopranos executed the coup de grace (or whatever the Italian version of that is) and I’m still sated on gravy.

    4) This is tough, but I’m axing culinaries, not because there aren’t some trite paranormals out there–oh, there are, and in spades!–but because I’m looking forward to some particular new ones on the horizon. Still, a special delivery of delicious book research could tip me over the table edge.

  4. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    Most of these are turn-offs for me, but I’ll vote anyway.

    1. I’d axe serial killers. There’s only one Hannibal Lecter and I’d like to keep it that way.

    2. Unless you’re Stephen Moffat or Anthony Horowitz, no more Sherlock Holmes! (Am I missing something? Didn’t Lucy Liu as Dr. Watson pretty much settle this?)

    3. I’d have to say enough with the Mafia, but only because if you get rid of drunken (or divorced) PIs you wouldn’t have any PIs left. (Slight overstatement?)

    4. The culinary thing is played out.

  5. Carmen Pinzon

    Here’s my vote:

    1. Serieal killers have got to go. At the rate they are proliferating, pretty soon there won’t be any people left to kill!

    2. No more ‘one last job’, please.

    3. Ciao a la Mafia.

    4. The culinary thing never grabbed me.

  6. LauraT

    1. Serial killers
    2. Holmes
    3. I could go either way on this one, really
    4. Paranormal crime solvers.

  7. Elizabeth A White

    1. Ok, this just isn’t fair. These are both staples of my crime fiction diet, and when done well are both awesome. But if I could only have one ever again… I’ll keep serial killers. Sorry hit men, gotta go.

    2. Not a huge Holmes fan, so that can go.

    3. Bye bye old school Italian mafia.

    4. Don’t feel overly strong about either of these, but I like to cook so I’ll vote paranormal crime solvers out.

  8. Jessica Jones

    1. Hit men — who cares
    2. Sherlock, but it’s a tight race
    4. On the fence here, guess I’ll go with the cooks, since paranormal is occasionally fresh and new.

  9. Betty Breier

    I actually like “good guy” hitmen like Block’s Keller, Thomas Perry’s Butcher’s Boy and Josh Bazell’s Pietro Brnwa so…
    1. Serial killers need to go

    “One last job” can be interesting if well done and I was never a fan of Sherlock Holmes.
    2. Holmes should retire for good

    PIs do need to dry out but at least they each drink for different reasons while the Mafia never changes.
    3. Die, mafia, die

    I’m not real big on paranormal, though Harry Dresden has become a new favorite of mine, and I really dislike sleuths from bookstores, bakeries, caterers, yarn stores, etc. Even though I crochet, I don’t want to read about an amateur detective who does.
    4. Culinary sleuths and their ilk need to tend to their various businesses and leave crime to the professionals.

  10. Keith Rawson

    Can I vote for all of them to go away?

  11. Juri Nummelin

    1. Serial killers!

    2. Holmes!

    3. Mafia!

    4. The culinary sleuths!

    I can still handle a novel that features a hit man doing his/her last job killing a clairvoyant and who’s getting heat from an alcoholic P.I.

  12. Court Merrigan

    1) Serial killers
    2) One last job
    3) alcoholic PI
    4) BOTH

  13. Donna Cunningham

    1. Hit Men 2″One Last Job” 3. Alcoholic PI 4. Culinary sleuths

  14. Jackson

    Do you think a pyromaniac that only harms others when needed to would be a good story main character? Asking because I’m thinking about trying my hand at writing a book.

Comments are closed.

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