Tuesday, October 5, 2010

One Clue

So, I'm reading a cozy (mystery) this past weekend and I'm taking notes. Yes, you read that correctly: I'm taking notes.

As the amateur sleuth compiled her lists of suspects, I compiled my list of suspects. As the amateur sleuth crossed names off of her list, I crossed names off of my list.

Holy Oleo, Batman, we've crossed off every name on the list . . . and still haven't found our murderer!

Yes, every single name gone from the list and the murder was still at large.

Never fear, Polly Purebred, Underdog is here!

There was one clue only to the alleged identity of the killer.

One Clue!

Yes, this confused me just a bit. You see, the author gave a list of names in the beginning of the book - first/last, you know the drill. Then, slowly, the last names disappeared.

Now, I'm lucky to remember my own first/last name (on a good day) let alone a list of 10 or so suspects! Yes, 10!

So, when the one clue appeared, I took careful note. I traversed my memory trying to match up the one clue (an email address, btw) with the names of the alleged suspects who - did I mention this - had all been crossed off the list already.

Then, I thought - gee, I bet the author is being really clever and the I need to decipher the meaning of the email address. Then, I thought - oh, wait, the author used these specific initials multiple times already . . . and my thought process continued as I kept reading.

The end result: I didn't have a clue who the murderer was until the big reveal.

Not fun, not fun at all. This was no fair game I was set to play. How in the heck can I solve a mystery with only one clue? How in the heck, with the amateur sleuth's ah-ha moment shrouded in mystery - she knew more than she (or the author) told - could I solve the crime?

I couldn't.

Yes, again . . . this was no fair game! The clue was obscure and there were multiple possibilities for the email address in question. The last name was only briefly mentioned - possibly twice - at the very beginning of the book. So . . .

. . . as I examine my own cozy, I realize I'm pretty safe because I clearly identify the suspects, and provide their motives, early on in the manuscript. There is no doubt who the suspects are, and it is only through the clever - okay inept with a bit of luck - work of my detectives that both they, and the reader begin to suspect the truth.

There isn't a vague clue about a person who - if I remember correctly - wasn't ever on the suspect list in the first place.

So, this author - while writing a great book, and I'll read more of her stuff - left this reader feeling a bit, well, cheated.

You see, according to some things I've read, the reader is supposed to learn the clues along with the amateur sleuth. The killer shouldn't be a total surprise. There should be, at some point fairly early within a novel, a hint of the killer's identity.

This didn't happen.

Still, reading this particular cozy was an enlightening experience and has helped me know what is needed, and not needed, as I immerse myself in the revision process.


Misha said...

I totally agree with you there. The best mysteries end with the reader slapping his/her forehead because they should have known who it was.

Great post:-)

Green Monkey said...

haaaa....its the clueless feeling I long for!

great post!