Friday, April 13, 2012

SHE DID IT TO ME AGAIN

by Earl Staggs

Years ago, I read the debut novel of a female writer (forensic thriller) and was disappointed to the point of anger. The book was not badly written, the characters were interesting, and the story rolled along rather well. Evidence was collected, clues were followed, and suspects were investigated. Finally, near the end, the killer was revealed, and that’s what set me off.

Turned out the killer was not one of the suspects or anyone who had even been mentioned before. There were no clues pointing to him. The killer’s identity was – literally – phoned in. The protagonist received a phone call from another district advising the man had been caught and had confessed. Case closed. I felt I’d been cheated.

Part of my enjoyment in reading a mystery novel is following the clues, sorting through the evidence, and trying to figure out whodunnit. I’m not always right, but I still like to feel I’m in the game. When an author pulls a rabbit out of a hat at the end, a surprise ending not even Sherlock Holmes could have anticipated, I’m not a happy camper.

To her credit, I suppose, this particular author created a main character who continued in a long line of novels for at least two decades. If there was a Mystery Hall of Fame, both the author and the character would be inducted, for sure.

That would not, however, move me to forgive her for the disappointment I felt after reading her first book.

And just last week, it happened again. I settled onto my sofa, the TV was on, a movie had just started, and I watched it. Near the end, the killer was revealed. Once again, a rabbit out of a hat. No clues pointed to him. There was no way I or anyone else could have figured out whodunnit. I snatched up the TV guide and read the blurb about the movie. Sure enough, the movie was based on a novel by my old friend. The same author who cheated me years before.

Obviously, not a lot of mystery fans feel the same way I do. This author has sold gazillions of books over the years. Apparently, gazillions of readers are satisfied as long as they can relate to the characters and care about their personal problems and relationships. That’s fine if you’re a fan of soap operas. I consider myself a mystery fan and feel I deserve a shot at solving the crime. The author owes me the courtesy of playing fair, of placing clues which will lead me to the right solution. If I don’t get it right, I’m okay as long as I can go back and pick up on what I missed and the protagonist did not. If I’m reading a mystery book or watching a mystery movie, I want more than who loves whom, who sleeps with whom, and who cheats on whom. I’m more interested in who killed whom.

I promise you this author will not do it to me again. I won’t pick up another of her books and I’ll check any movie I watch to see if it’s based on her books. That’ll teach her.

Yes, indeedy. You’ll be sorry you cheated this mystery fan, Ms Cornwell.

13 comments:

Jean Henry Mead said...

I feel the same way, Earl. I'll never forget a book about a woman held captive who couldn't escape because she was walled in. But in the very next chapter, the author simply said the woman slipped away. No other explanation. Such lazy writing! And an author I'll never read again.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Earl,

I agree with you and Jean. Mystery writers have to play fair with readers. If they don't, the book isn't worth reading.

jrlindermuth said...

Good post, Earl. A mystery should be a mystery, not a miracle.

Anita Page said...

I'm with you on this, Earl. She took the easy way out and cheated her readers.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Earl, as I listen to the call to prayers outside my Mumbai hotel window, it's nice to know I can count on you to bring a smile to my face.

On my deadhead here on Singapore Airlines, I wondered if another mystery was about to be started as two passengers were "missing" and they were having to find and remove their luggage. Hmm -- glad we made it in okay.

Basic rules apply to writing and flying -- no cheating allowed:)

About Bobbi C. said...

I was hoping you'd "finger the perp"...I haven't read any of her books in years, but now remember WHY I quit reading them. This is also one of my big disgruntlements.

And good idea to check movie listings to see where if it's based on a book. I usually do that AFTER I watch one.

About Bobbi C. said...

I meant "to see whether" it's based on a movie. Good grief. LOL

Warren Bull said...

I had a similar experience with a now nameless author whose "solution" was to give a psychiatric disorder that develops in adolescence to an adult who showed none of the symptoms throughout the first 80% of the book.
If it had not been a library book I would have thrown it against the wall. I have never read another book by the author whose name has been banned from my lips.

Patg said...

So glad to hear that you want to follow clues and try to solve a mystery. Seems to be lacking these days with the main character and her problems, business and/or love life taking center stage.
I remember that book. I think I read the first four before I gave up. I knew better than to watch the movie.
Patg

Ben Small said...

Ditto, Earl. I stopped reading her for a while, actually for her last three books, but then relented and downloaded them on audio versions, for car trips. Maybe I'll choose to read someone else, instead...

Jaden Terrell said...

Earl, you're so right. I like to learn about the character's personal life, but not to the exclusion of a fair-play mystery.

Jaden Terrell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Earl Staggs said...

It's comforting to know so many agree with me. Thanks to everyone who read my rant and left comments.