Friday, December 2, 2011

Can You Use Humor in Thrilling Fiction?


Bonds Flat Road was so congested Grant and Bensen decided to find a landline instead of slogging through traffic, watching for bars to appear on their cell phones.

The parking lot next to the park office building was full, so Grant parked in the back. Walking through the lot, Bensen said, “Lots of fed-looking cars here. You think Homeland Security and the FBI are here?”

“Wouldn’t bet against it. This is a big deal now, maybe the biggest thing to ever happened around here. I bet the governor does a flyover.”

A dozen photographers elbowed each other on the observation decks, jostling for the best perspective, snapping away with big cameras. The sun was up and it was hot, yet they wore long sleeved windbreakers advertising the agencies they represented.

“Yup,” Bensen said, looking at the observation decks. “Homeland Security’s here. And the FBI, the CBI, and someone from four or five counties. And I think I see a security guard from Walmart.”

Two big feds were guarding the door, arms folded across their chests. “Can we help you?” a black guy with a knobby bald head said.

“I need to use a landline,” Grant said, pulling out his ID. “There’s no cell coverage out here and I need to call my chief.”

The guy peered at Grant’s shield for half a second while shaking his head, and said, “Sorry, Homeland Security’s using this building.”

“How about a cordless, then?” Bensen asked. “We’ll stay out here and talk. You can eavesdrop.”

The guy scowled and tightened his arms across his chest. The other guy, who looked like a movie mobster, smirked.

Grant got an idea. “Hey, is Barbara Johansen in there?”

“Yeah. She’s area supervisor. So what?”

“Tell her Detective Grant Starr is here and I need to talk to her.”

He scowled at Grant again, disappeared into the building for five minutes, poked his head back out, glared at Grant and Bensen and said, “You can come in.”

Grant walked in and Bensen followed. When Bensen passed the guy, he slipped him a folded dollar bill and said, “Keep an eye on the blue Ford, will ’ya?” He winked at the man. “There’ll be more of these if it doesn’t get dinged or scratched.”

The guy threw the bill on the floor and said, “Smartass.”

Five steps later, Grant said to Bensen, “You’re paying the deductible if my truck gets keyed.”

“Don’t worry,” Bensen said. “Guys like that are really pussycats.”

Eco-terrorism is no laughing matter, especially when hundreds of innocent people get killed because one man thinks things fish are more important than people.

In this scene, Detectives Grant Starr and Ralph Bensen have just witnessed what would likely happen (at least in my imagination) to the Don Pedro Reservoir if the O’Shaughnessy Dam at Hetch Hetchy failed. Flood water tops the dam, the worst thing that can happen to an earth-and-rock-fill dam, but...

No spoilers here! Check out my THE MIGHTY T page for another excerpt, reviews, and purchase information.

It’s a tense scene, yet Bensen is cracking jokes. (He probably should think twice about agitating the angry fed at the door, though. They might need to pass through that door again before the story is over.) I like Bensen, he’s a little like me in some ways; I’m always trying to lighten a heavy situation with humor. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not so well. Eyes often roll after I’ve opened my mouth.

Some readers may not like the wise-cracking Bensen, may think he should be more policeman-like, especially in a dire situation like this one. They’d likely be the ones who roll their eyes at me after I’ve said something witty, or pithy, while trying to lighten the mood.

I’ve read novels that had almost no humor in them. I have to say I don’t enjoy them as much. Humor isn’t always appropriate, but I think it is more often than not.