Monday, December 20, 2010

The mystery of mysteries

Once you immerse yourself in the world of mysteries and such lists as Sisters in Crime and Murder Must Advertise, you begin to learn about the various subgenres. It' not easy--there are thrillers and crime fiction and P.I. novels and cozy mysteries, historicals and contemporaries and espionage novels. I am fuzzy on what separates some, but reading Pretend You Don't See Her by Mary Higgins Clark has made one distinction crystal clear to me. Like all of Clark's novels, which I hate to read when I'm home alone at night, this is a thriller. The reader knows from the get-go who the bad guy is and he's never just sort of bad--he's usually sociopathically evil. In this novel, a young woman witnesses a murder and is the only person who can identify the killer, a notorious hired assassin who takes pleasure in killing. She is forced into the Witness Protection Program because the government desperately wants her alive to identify him if and when they catch up with him. I've always vaguely thought the Witness Protection Program would be awful--you have to leave your whole life, including family, behind and go somewhere completely strange--which is what Lacey Farrell does, assuming a totally new identiity. No spoiler here: word gets out where she is, but you knew that or there wouldn't be enough story for the novel. And somewhere in the back of your subconscious you know Lacey is going to return to her old life and her family and maybe take the new man she's met with her. But meantime, the tension from the writing is so palpable and graphic that I frequently have to set the novel down. Take a breather as it were.
I just finished reading Randy Rawls' Death by Diamonds, a P.I. novel in which the P.I. is a woman, thankfully more rounded than Stephanie Plum of Janet Evanovich's books. But still, there are some pretty brutal and violent scenes and deaths in this novel. It's a good read and I liked Beth Bowman and rooted for her, but I could never write some of the scenes in that book. Once again, in this book you know who the bad guy is early on, but how is Bowman going to defeat him.
Which brings us around to cozies, what I'm trying to write: murder and violence happen off-stage, the central figure is usually a female amateur sleuth, and there may be a few hold-your-breath moments, but really the books are just what the word says--cozy. And the reader doesn't know who the villain is and must figure it out along with the central figure--if it's really well done, you don't figure it out ahead and are surprised. But then in some, you can guess. My kind of reading. Now if I can just write a good one. I'm going back to work on Skeleton in a Dead Space after I finish this post.
Warm and sunny here today. I shudder as I read and hear on TV about the awful weather in California and the northern and eastern states. We are having a dry winter, but so far mild. I expect winter to hit like a blast any day now. Meantime this is lovely weather, makes it hard to stay inside and work--and read scary thrillers.

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