Friday, October 4, 2013

Where Are All the Good Mysteries?

I've read a number of mysteries lately that I haven't written about on the blog because they just weren't good, but after the last disappointment, I decided to grant myself a rant. Why are the mysteries I'm reading so bad? Or can you only read mysteries for so long before nothing can please you (and I have been reading them for a long time)?

I have trouble not picking up a new book in a series I've been reading for years--even if the past few titles in the series have been less than stellar. And all four books from long-running series that I read during this period were pretty terrible--The Twelfth of Never, by James Patterson (I've already given up on the Alex Cross series and the Women's Murder Club needs to go as well),  Beast by Faye Kellerman (completely implausible and poorly proofread), The Whole Enchilada by Diane Mott Davidson (a series that has become utterly ridiculous), and Bones of the Lost by Kathy Reichs (just dull, with Ryan making only a cameo appearance). These series have clearly jumped the shark.

The problem lies not just with series mysteries, however. I also read two stand-alone mysteries that failed to thrill. If You Were Here, by Alafar Burke, features a muddled plot filled with ethically challenged characters who act in inexplicable ways. Even more disappointing was A Dangerous Fiction, by Barbara Rogan, whose fiction I have enjoyed in the past. Rogan provides an insider's look into the world of literary agents, which is interesting, and the more serious aspects of the story--the unpacking of the protagonist's memories, which she has shaped to make her marriage to a renowned author, dead now three years, the glittering foundation of her life--could serve as the foundation of an interesting novel. The mystery, however, feels unimportant (with apologies to the two murdered characters), and the tacked-on romance is both unbelievable and superfluous.

Plotting is really everything in mysteries--and if the plotting is unbelievable or confused or completely illogical, fuggedaboutit. Well-developed characters are a nice bonus--but they can't save a poor plot. Perhaps Faye Kellerman's work illustrates this best--Rina Lazarus and Peter Decker are not only three-dimensional characters, they're characters we would like to know. But, as the last several titles in the series demonstrate, two great characters are not enough. I almost get the feeling that series authors think they need to make the stories more and more extreme to keep readers interested--but I think that assumption is wrong. Mystery readers like a plot that is clever but makes sense . . . so just give it to us!

Favorite passage (yes, I had one!)

That's always the way of it: bereavement outlasts its ceremonies.
From A Dangerous Fiction

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