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.