18 December 2010

Day 266: Confessional

Confessional by Jack Higgins.  ISBN: 9780002229173.

My fiance and I had a brief discussion on the phone last night about why I dislike mystery novels so much.  Strangely the things I dislike about mystery novels tend to translate better in Fantasy novels, at least as far as my tastes in literature are concerned.  Let's boil down mysteries into the pulpy pulps they are, shall we?  The main elements of a mystery novel, that are also usually present in fantasy:
  • A shadowy organization, usually connected to the government or some other authority figure/powerful group.  
  • An unusually with-it hero or heroine.
  • Some pretty good back-up and/or a friend/sidekick who is only slightly less with-it than previously mentioned hero.
  • A seemingly unsolvable crime/situation to attempt to stop and/or solve.
So...  Why fantasy novels over mysteries?  For me, I think it's because fantasy tends to be less about the plot and more about the character development or world building.  In some fantasy novels the world is even more of a character than the characters. Sci-fi/fantasy geeks will know what I'm talking about.  But with murder mysteries the entire thing is mostly plot driven, and since the plot focuses around a "mystery," the author can't get too deep into the details without giving the entire thing away.  Nowadays people are so used to the twist ending (because it's all been done before), that we get shiny, sparkly action-y stuff like Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code to distract us from the lackluster writing and the fact that Robert Langdon thinks he's hotter stuff than he actually is.

Meanwhile the shadow organizations in fantasy novels have the freedom to be entirely more devious than the shadow organizations set in the "real world."  In fantasy, they can be plotting to overthrow anything from a small village to the entire world to heaven itself.  They are not limited to the simple greed and deviousness of base human desires.  The organizations can also be more complex by adding in elements of magic, special powerful items, dangerous creatures, etc.  And fantasy can get away with it because we've already dispensed our disbelief yay-much, so that it's really not much more of a stretch to believe that the King's jester is actually his bastard child in disguise and is plotting to kill off the legitimate male heir and marry his half-sister in some kind of weird incestuous takeover.*  Meanwhile it is just too hard to swallow the idea that an ex-marine cop of a small town in Canada all on his lonesome is actually capable of rounding up a small group of terrorists who have kidnapped some rich girl involved in a feminist group's protest against beauty pageants.**

Fantastical heroes are just better in fantastical settings because that is where they belong.  Sure, it's great to have a really well informed detective on the case who also happens to be badass at kung fu, but it just doesn't happen all that often in real life, and when you're already throwing in these crazy plots to overthrow the president or assassinate the pope it just makes me want to do this:
I could really be any one of these people in response to murder mystery herp-derp.  I hope this didn't make anyone's browser crash, this is why I don't include .gifs often.
It really is beyond me how there are people who only read murder mysteries.  There are only so many "realistic" plot twists you can use, only so many character types that are believable, and only so many motives you can give your characters or organizations for committing crimes.  Then again I'm sure there are people out there who find fantasy just as redundant and repetitive.

What are your thoughts?  Are you more of a mystery or a fantasy person?  WHY do you like mysteries?  I sincerely want to know.  PS: I recognize I'm currently reading a bunch of very outdated novels, etc.  Can you recommend some newer ones that I might actually like?  Before you start, I've already read Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  It was okay.

*I made this plot up, as far as I know it does not actually exist... but I might be willing to read it.
**A very loose summary of Murder on Ice...which I hated, for many reasons.

My review can be found on Goodreads.  Well...at least I'm giving attention to books that don't have much.

-I won this book from Forgotten Bookmarks as part of one of their giveaways.  It is not related to publishers, authors, or publishing industry, and I'm under no obligation to provide a review.


  1. the latest mystery novels i've read are the Millennium Trilogy novels (steig larsson), and i would only recommend the first one as it stands alone, and the others just get ho-hummy, and become all about that shadowy organization of which you speak.

    i think Fingersmith by Sarah Waters can be categorized as mystery, though maybe it's more suspense/intrigue/drama. I don't know, it's very British, and there are no detectives. But there is a very compelling plot, and a whole lot of thieving going on.

    i like mysteries sometimes because it's like a puzzle i want to solve, but if the characters are too cliche, i can't get into it. (same problem i have with all books, really). Sometimes it's for the voice that I keep reading, especially when paired with devices you don't often see in mystery novels, like talking animals (jonathan lethem's Gun, With Occasional Music).

  2. Hm, Larsson is definitely on my to-read list already, thanks to its overwhelming popularity. I will consider bumping it up, and I've heard about Fingersmith. This calls for investigation!


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