Posts tagged with "mystery novel" - Faerye Net 2011-08-22T14:11:48+00:00 Felicity Shoulders Too cozy for comfort 2011-08-22T14:11:48+00:00 2011-08-22T14:14:47+00:00 <p>I&#8217;m listening to a cozy mystery on audiobook. You know the sort of thing I mean: no gore, no guns. Just a puzzle and a well-behaved British sleuth working it out. I wasn&#8217;t too many chapters in before I thought, &#8220;this may just be <em>too</em> cozy for me.&#8221; At first, I thought it was a certain tendency of the author to include too many non-telling details: she turned right on Such Street and walked north to Another Street before proceeding west on Yet Another&#8230;she folded her newspaper under her right arm. But as I closed in on the three-quarter mark in this book, I realized that I had yet to meet an unpleasant character.</p> <p>There&#8217;s conflict: World War I and its aftermath, the struggles of a character transcending her social class&#8230;I&#8217;m not a huge conflict addict myself, I can make do. But when I realize that I&#8217;m reading a book <em>with the breakdown of social class as a theme</em> where no character shows any attachment to the old ways, and the high-class characters show no evidence of reluctance to change, vested interest in a system that privileges them, or snootiness toward a &#8216;social climber&#8217;&#8230;I stop believing.</p> <p>I harp a lot on the Vivid Fictive Dream described by John Gardner in <a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780679734031'><em>Art of Fiction</em></a>, so maybe you&#8217;re sick of it. But this sort of thing &#8212; a world with no jerks, no snobs, no self-absorbed idiots making trouble for characters &#8212; breaks the reader&#8217;s suspension of disbelief. We&#8217;re used to accepting, even if we feel a few steps removed from them, flawless protagonists (perhaps especially in mysteries) but flawless supporting cast? Flawless extras? An entire Europe, hell, an entire <em>World War</em> with no human flaws? It&#8217;s cloying, and it&#8217;s <em>unbelievable</em>. As Agent Smith says, &#8220;The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.&#8221;</p> <p>I love escapist literature. I have comfort books where the hero saves the day and all evil is defeated. These are not particularly realistic things, but a good author can make me believe in them &#8212; and one of the ways you convince me to believe in your happily ever after, in spite of everything I know about human nature and the capacity things have to fall apart, is not to lie to me unnecessarily on the way. Gardner tells us that the novel &#8220;imitates the world in all its complexity&#8221;. That means jerks and petty tyrants, even if you&#8217;re not telling a story that needs epic tyrants or sociopaths. The thing about readers is we want you to lie to us, but we want you to tell us a lie we can believe.</p> P.D. James and the mystery of the missing tea 2008-07-14T08:01:55+00:00 2008-07-19T23:44:53+00:00 <p>Now, being of sound mind, I like a good Dalgliesh novel. P.D. James writes lucid prose, human characters and an intriguing mystery to boot; that&#8217;s not getting into her skills with suspense. However, in listening to my current audiobook, <em><a href="" target="links">Original Sin</a></em>, I have realized something chilling.</p> <p>Everyone drinks coffee. Every suspect or interviewee who offers anything offers coffee; the sister of the victim feels the need for coffee. Even in the murder-plagued publishing company&#8217;s &#8216;tea room&#8217; presided over by the tea lady we find coffee, coffee grounds, people kicking in weekly for coffee. This can&#8217;t be simple find-replace regionalization (my mother owns the British versions of the Harry Potter books, so I do realize it happens), because the French suspect and his Anglicized daughter, independently, bring coffee to the police in <em>cafeti&egrave;res</em>. Somehow I doubt P.D. originally wrote <em>théière</em> and expected us to understand!</p> <p>Casting my mind back, I remember some cups of coffee being plot points in earlier P.D. James novels. But try as I might, I cannot recall seeing a single character drink a cup of tea in one of her books. Does P.D. James hate tea?</p> <p>As Xander once said on this very subject, &#8220;You&#8217;re destroying a perfectly good cultural stereotype.&#8221;</p> <p><strong>Update, July 19, 2008:</strong> She&#8217;s messing with me. Now I&#8217;m listening to <a href=""><em>A Certain Justice</em></a> and tea has been made, been made fresh, and offered to the bereaved in its capacity as the British panacea. She saw me post this and went back in time to 1997 and changed all the coffees to teas in this novel. Really.</p>