Hey all, Gerry Boyle here, pausing from my monitoring of crime news in the Bangor Daily—a body in the trunk of a Lexus, brazen burglars in Belfast robbing houses while residents are asleep—to report on a crime novel I just read.
It was sort of a heist novel, pretty favorably reviewed, action packed, supplied plenty of twists and turns, and set in an African city I’ve visited. The writing was pretty good. The setting was nicely drawn. In fact, I read it cover to cover.
But I’m not going to identify the author or title.
My mother always told me, if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.
But I did have good things to say (see above). But when I put the book down I was glad it was over. It was a very sour feeling and I actually picked the book back up and flipped through the pages to try to identify the source of my dissatisfaction. And this was my conclusion: I didn’t like anybody in the book. The villains were brutal and sociopathic. The cops were mostly corrupt and just as brutal as the villains. The main character was a hapless sort of criminal who draws on his combat experience to kill a cornered teenager in cold blood. His wife wasn’t a bad person (compared to the rest of the cast) but was just generally annoying.
I was glad when it was over.
Now, maybe I’m old fashioned. And maybe there’s a whole subgenre of grim, bleak novels filled with characters with no socially redeeming value. (Movies are becoming versions of shoot-em-up video games; maybe the same goes for books).
Now I have to point out that my books aren’t exactly the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. I’ve invented lots of nasty criminals. And people do die in my books, sometimes in unpleasant ways. But I hope I give readers somebody to root for, as do the rest of the writers on this blog. As a reader myself, if I don’t have anybody to root for, I just don’t care. Drop a bomb on the whole bunch. Let ’em wipe each other out. Wake me when it’s over.
This isn’t to say that the Lone Ranger has to ride to the rescue. There are more flawed heroes in crime fiction than any other kind (run through your list here). But those heroes at some point do the right thing. You know there’s good at their cores. And for that reason you read on, hoping that they prevail. If there isn’t a Paladin, a Spenser, a Reacher (or in my case a Jack McMorrow or Brandon Blake), someone to take up the side of good in the battle against evil, I just lose interest.
How ’bout you all, out there in crime-novel land. What do you think? Ever read a book like this, that had almost all of the right ingredients but left a bad taste?
What draws you to a protagonist? What brings you back book after book? Let’s talk about this.
PS If you want to chat about it in person, I’m at the Rockport, Maine Library, this Wednesday (Nov. 14) at 6:30 p.m.