As you might guess, when I have time to read, I generally read crime fiction. It’s a broad genre, of course. Mysteries, thrillers, noir, caper, spy — I love them all.
I also read other things. YA novels. Some literary stuff. The works of James Kirkwood, who was a brilliant novelist.
But crime novels are what I naturally lean toward.
I was recently leafing through a mystery magazine, and in one of the articles, the author made a comment that mysteries of late seem less interested in creating solvable puzzles than they once did. Which, he thought, was unfortunate.
We all know the kind of book he was yearning for. Traditional mysteries. The kind that feature locked rooms, clues planted everywhere, a challenge to the reader to figure out who the killer is before the hero does.
I can understand why he and many other people like these kinds of mysteries, but they don't really interest me all that much. The formal "mystery" of the story rarely does.
I could spend several minutes telling you about Connelly’s Harry Bosch and his pain and his loves and his demons and his enemies, but I’d be hard-pressed to tell you the plot of a single mystery he has solved.
The same goes for T. Jefferson Parker’s Merci Rayborn. I can tell you all about her life, her troubles in the police department, her failure to get the respect she deserves, but I can't for the life of me tell you what crimes she has solved. I can't lay out the clues and show you how she — or Bosch — figured out who the killer was.
These writers' plots are generally wonderful, but, for me, the underlying crimes usually don’t stick. They aren’t what I walk away from the books thinking about.
Because, frankly, it doesn't much matter. Not to me, at least.
My book, WHISPER IN THE DARK, comes out in the U.S. in early February, and it's quite a bit different from my previous book. It’s still a thriller, but this time there’s a mystery involved. A dead body. A detective.
That dead body, however, is merely there to get the story rolling. While who killed the victim will be very important to the people surrounding him, and will, hopefully, have the readers guessing — the mystery itself is not all that important to me.
What matters are the characters themselves. How it all affects them. The characters become the mystery and as you read, you begin to realize that these people may not be who you thought they were. And who killed whom is less important than why.
That’s true of the Bosch books, it’s true of the Rayborn books, it’s true of most literate, well-written mysteries these days. The puzzle has taken a back seat to the characters and their motivations.
John Sandford — another favorite crime writer — doesn’t even bother with a mystery in the traditional sense. We already know who the killer is.
And it doesn’t matter. The books are still great — because we LOVE Lucas Davenport.
One of my favorite Davenport stories involves a murder, yes, but the thing I most remember is Davenport’s touching relationship with a young girl whose mother has been killed.
We all have different tastes and we all read for different reasons. I prefer character puzzles over plot puzzles any day of the week.
What about you?