If I Knew Then….

If it’s so good to know, why didn’t Merlin just tell Arthur what the future held for him in Once and Future King and be done with it?

Because there would be no story.

It’s the story that is important. The ending is only one part of the story. I have heard of people who read the end of the mystery first. I do not. I want to play the puzzle that the author spent a year plus of his or her life constructing for me. But I do sometimes re-read a mystery in order to study how that writer exposed and buried the clues.

Still the puzzle is only one part of the mystery story. There is the thrill of adventure. There are character arcs. We want the characters to get what they deserve whether it’s happy-ever-after or a comeuppance. I love surprises. I love the escape. Sometimes there is exposure to a new point-of-view on something that is germane to our times and I like seeing how other people think.

Girl on a Train was a big hit even though the ultimate question (“Is she going to get murdered for sticking her nose in to other people’s business?”) really wasn’t at stake at all. Unless it became apparent early that she was telling the story from beyond the grave, we knew she wasn’t going to get killed. So the thriller-style ending didn’t work for me. I liked the book otherwise. The author tracked the downward spiral of the protagonist’s alcoholism vividly.

At times, I feel like the author tried, and failed, to manipulate me by posing a mortal threat that is obviously no threat at all. Even as I watch Star Trek with my 12 year old grandson and it looks like one of the crew is in some mortal danger, he’s learned from me not to worry if the crew member is a star of the show. That actor has a contract and he’ll outlive the instant danger to appear in the next episode. Not so for the redshirts, of course, those sad unnamed crew members that get vaporized by some hostile alien. Even so, every episode is a ripping good story so I watch them.

Adrian McKinty successfully played with the mortal-threat-to-the-progat stakes in his last book in the Sean Duffy Series, Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly. He opened with bad guys taking Duffy out into the woods to be shot. The scene stops just when Duffy is pretty sure there is no way out. The next scene starts with the backstory and the book spools out the events leading up to this climactic scene. Added to the suspense was my expectation that this would be the last Duffy book. He could get shot. Authors have killed off their sleuths before to be done with them. Conan Doyle killed Sherlock. Dame Agatha killed Poirot.

But you won’t hear it from me. If you want to know if Duffy dies, buy the book.

 

 

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8 thoughts on “If I Knew Then….”

  1. Okay, you’ve convinced me to check out Duffy! I also like to study mysteries to see how the author has buried the clues, and so much more. This sounds like a good one to study.

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  2. I’m like you – I can’t read the ending first (I did cheat with the last Harry Potter because I knew it was the end, he could die, and I needed to brace myself if one of the major trio snuffed it) and I like re-reading to see how the author planted clues.

    But yes, that is the problem with series like Star Trek. Or movies/TV shows/books that explore a character’s origin. You know this character goes on to do…stuff, so even if they are put in danger, you are aware they get out of it. Still, if the story is good I’ll watch.

    And those poor, unnamed redshirts…

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  3. Oh, those sad unnamed redshirts! Lol! Your post is spot on, Keenan. It’s all about the story. It’s no fun if we know the ending before we begin, although admittedly every once in a while I’ll peek at the back of the book for a hint as to what’s coming (much harder to do with a Kindle!) 😉

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  4. I’ve seen all the older Criminal Minds more than once. I enjoy watching them again to see how they fit the pieces together to come to the conclusions they reached… not always with the perfect help of Penelope Garcia and her Amazing Computer Skills.

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  5. Wonderful post. But I’d not heard of Duffy and now I have to go buy the whole danged series. I am holding you personally responsible for my teetering TBR pile. If I’d known before I read this post…well, you get my drift, Keenan. The greatest compliment I can pay an author is to start their book over immediately after I have finished it to see not who dun it, but how the author dun it, or, on even rarer occasions, just for the sheer joy of the usage of the language.

    Your comments about series characters are well taken. When I read a series, I always play a game of guessing which of the new group are the likeliest to die and which are the likeliest to kill. It’s fun to see if you can determine a tell in the either the main character or the main sidekick. A few characters seem to have them. But I’m not telling.

    Duffy, huh. Sigh–shopping.

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