The Smell of Cordite Hung in the Air

Woman with Smoking Gun by Clarence F. UnderwoodSo I’m reading away on the first in series of a new-to-me thriller author, enjoying the story line and the protagonist (tortured male assassin–one of my favorite kind of characters. Cliché, I know, but I still love ’em) and I come to the line “The smell of cordite hung heavy in the air” (or something like that).  As I’m sure you can tell by the title of this post, there just might be something wrong with that.

Well, yeah.

Back when I was a newbie to the crime genre, I read as many crime novels as I could find, and it didn’t matter what year they were published. Often, I’d come across the cordite reference and I wondered, “what the heck is cordite?” So I looked it up. Turns out, cordite was a propellant much like gunpowder, used mainly in the UK.

Notice the past tense.

That’s because cordite is no longer around and it hasn’t been used since WWII. Now, I’m not trying to be all snarky about accuracy in books, since I’ve made mistakes in my own fiction (like using the word clip for magazine. Got called on that one a couple of times.) But the author claims to have several experts read their work for accuracy and it makes me wonder how “expert” those folks really are. This author is independently published, but I’ve read a few books by traditionally published, well-known thriller authors who used the same reference in fairly recent books. Aren’t they supposed to have fact-checkers? Or at least a good editor?

Oh, well.

I’ve also read books where the character flipped the safety off on a Glock. A Glock doesn’t have an external safety . After reading the most recent book with that reference I gave the author the benefit of the doubt since guns weren’t their forte, and because it didn’t throw me too far out of the story. I do that with most of the books I read. Being an author myself, I realize how hard it is to make sure unfamiliar subjects are accurate, and the best you can do is research and try very hard to get it right. If the rest of the book is compelling, then a mistake here and there isn’t a deal breaker, at least for me.

The one thing that does make me throw the book across the room, though, and I’ve touched on this before, is when a male writer tries to write a female and either makes her a one-dimensional, convenient character, or puts lipstick on a dude and calls it good.


But, then again, being female is one subject where I have plenty of experience  🙂

How about you? Do you give authors the benefit of the doubt when you notice a mistake, or do you throw the book across the room? Better yet, do you tell them?

About dvberkom

Bestselling author of the Kate Jones and Leine Basso thrillers. View all posts by dvberkom

15 responses to “The Smell of Cordite Hung in the Air

  • Ben

    Terrific post. Once you know what to look for, it’s hard not to spot the errors. No one is perfect, but it’s something worth looking into.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Polly Iyer

    Haven’t had a biggie like the cordite example. I’m more irritated by stock phrases: lips in a straight line, s/he said through clenched teeth. There are tons of them, and they bother the hell out of me.

    By the way, I’m with you on tortured heroes, heroines too, but women tend to be stronger psychologically (readers of this blog, don’t come back at me with that statement. It’s true and you know it.), so they handle things better. I don’t think I’ve written one book that didn’t have a tortured hero. In fact, I wrote a blog about it last November. Thanks for reminding me. I just put it up on Goodreads

    Liked by 1 person

    • dvberkom

      Yeah, I’ve got a soft spot for a tortured hero/heroine. Keeps things in perspective. It’s a trope of the genre, but hey, I like it. And can I hear a hell yes on the psychologically strong woman character 😀


  • melparish

    Great post DV. Like you I tend to give the author the benefit of the doubt unless it is something so ridiculous that it takes you completely out of the story. I’m sure there are lots of things I read which are not true/possible, but I just don’t know it – though after having attended the WPA, it has certainly opened my eyes to how often some writers (of books and shows) just make up whatever they want to fit their plot!

    Liked by 1 person

    • dvberkom

      I know, Mel. It amazes me now when I watch movies and shows that get it sooooo very wrong. Then again, I can usually suspend my disbelief for a while–at least until it’s over. Then I’ll pick it apart.


  • Gina

    I generally try to give the author the benefit of the doubt, unless a character does something really unbelievable, like getting on a commercial airline without proper ID (or using someone else’s ticket). No way no more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dvberkom

      I hear that, Gina. I’ve read some books where the hero/heroine appears to be living in a time warp…a writer needs to keep up with the latest rules/regs/tech and not rely on their own experiences from another decade 🙂 That’s just lazy.


  • acflory

    Ugh, this is a hard one. On the one hand I’d hope that if someone read a glaring mistake in one of my stories they’d give me the benefit of the doubt. But…I know I’m not that tolerant, not when it’s something I know something about. For example, I know nothing about guns so I wouldn’t even notice the discrepancy with cordite, but I do have a smattering of languages so a misspelling or mistranslation or something in a language I know would have me ripping that book to bits…with my teeth!


    Liked by 1 person

    • dvberkom

      Ow. Hopefully it’s not an ereader 🙂

      Good point, though–you don’t know what you don’t know. But, when you do find those mistakes, do you contact the author to let them know or just let it slide? I’m asking because I’ve had a reader or two contact me with comments and I’ve been glad to have the information (or misinformation) brought to my attention.


      • acflory

        Ah…yes. I’d definitely contact them. I know perfection is impossible, but I’d far rather know about an issue and fix it than have it sitting there like a wart for all eternity. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  • Sherry Fundin

    I am able to be pretty forgiving about inaccuracies and some “minor” editing issues. After all…it is fiction and I have read books by top of the line authors with major publishers that have issues. BUT, the really good authors do their best to limit both. I think this phrase is because they like it so they want to fit it in whenever they can, accurate or not. LOL
    sherry @ fundinmental

    Liked by 1 person

    • dvberkom

      LOL Sherry. I think you’re right about writers liking that phrase. Some of the old masters (ca. 1930s-40s) used it and the rhythm really sticks in your mind. And yes, I agree about trying to limit both inaccuracies and grammar goofs. Finding a freelance editor and doing research are so much easier these days.


  • Kilburn Hall Blog

    Exactly. Even us seasoned authors who research our books for authenticity occasionally get the facts wrong. I am not a gun person, never fired one so when my protagonist carries one, which is rare in 2016 as even spies have problems carrying firearms into a country, I research the gun. I try not to use a Sig Sauer P226 in every book but like to change up a bit. My protagonist in ICEX carries a baby Desert Eagle. I don’t get in to too much detail about the type of weapon. Getting into too much detail when you’re a novice can trip you up. Keep it simple stupid (KISS). Ian Fleming only mentioned the Walther PBK and how it differed from Bond’s previous weapon, a .45. In every Bond book, the Walther PBK was mentioned just not specific mechanics. I apply the KISS principle with most things since most authors that are out of their area tend to do ‘data dumps’ when researching. Even Michael Crichton fell victim to ‘data dump.’When I write about a woman character, I do not put lipstick on a dude and call it good. Here’s a trick for new writers that are inexperienced at writing women characters. Take your favorite actress. female politician, friend, co-worker and base you character on her. Robin O’Hara in The Killing Of A Robin is based on Lara Flynn Boyle.
    Your post is right on.

    Liked by 2 people

    • dvberkom

      Thanks for your comments, Kilburn! I like the idea of using a favorite actress et al as a model for your characters. When I created Leine (and Kate, for that matter) I was lucky in that they both came fully-formed in my head before I wrote a word.


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