Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Red Herrings

I don't know why it is over the last couple of years that I've forsaken most novels about love and family and coming-of-age for the one where ten girls are murdered and one troubled detective tries to solve the case while also struggling with her own demons. I've never really written any genre work around police investigations or crime. The closest I've come is that noir story for Philadelphia Noir. And yet I'm now reading almost only books that are Edgar Award winners or, more often than not, regular mysteries and detective stories that don't spend so much time nursing relationships. Escape, is that what these books are?

Anyway, I skimmed one the other day by Lisa Scottoline, a book my mom checked out from the Plainsboro Library and said was a page turner. She liked it okay, but said it wasn't the greatest, so I started it and was immediately suspicious of the set-up, and forced her to tell me if I 'd guessed the plot of the book within twenty pages. She said, no, no, the killer wasn't who I thought it was. But the writer so definitely wanted you to think something was off with these two characters, and so the scenes played this out in a way that I can only classify as cheating. Basic synopsis: a soldier comes home from the war to find that his wife is dead by suspicious suicide-ish circumstances, leaving behind their baby daughter. The dead wife's sister and husband take in the baby, because they can't have children and then they are weirdly territorial about not wanting the dad to be around the baby. To me, this suggests motive for murder, especially when they keep thwarting him from actually holding the baby or seeing the baby and when they bring up this weird custody document giving them guardianship, so there you have the red herrings, and most of the book is wasted on these pointless scenes, because, in the end, my mom was telling the truth--they had nothing to do with the murder, and it was some other random character who popped up in like the last 30 pages of the book. Cheater.

However, there was something moderately engaging about the writing, in as much as I wanted to know how it turned out and so I skim-read the last 200 pages in about half an hour to get to the end. You can do that. All you have to do is read like the first word in a sentence and see if there are an exclamation points in the paragraphs and if not, you can keep going. I got the gist of it and made it to the last page where they were all reunited and he got his baby back.

The other thing I'd like to point out to the publishers who I'm sure will see this post is that the cover should actually reflect the plot. The cover of this book shows a dad carrying a five year old daughter on his back, even though in the book's timeline, the baby never ages out of babyhood. That set up another poorly dealt with expectation as I kept waiting for the jump in narrative time that never happened.

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