In which Guest Bloggers, by Chance, Choose a Theme
HANK: Its just as much as surprise to me as it is coincidence to you. When I invited Kate Carlisle to come visit yesterday and Robin today, I was only wanting you to meet these two wonderful women. But somehow, they're thinking on a similar wavelength. Because Kate is Kate and Robin is Robin (part of their individual charm) the "theme" is portrayed in a different way.
Yesterday, if you remember, Kate's post was titled: It's all about the drinking. Today, Robin Burcell presents:
THE CASE OF THE ALCOHOLIC LONER SLEUTH
“Would somebody please tell me why an alcoholic and troubled loner sleuth is considered more interesting and relevant than an ordinary, likeable person trying to see that justice is done?”
At the time, I was going to post a pithy one-liner response, such as: because that loner has far more obstacles to overcome to even walk out his front door (like sobering up, so he doesn’t trip down the steps and break his friggin’ neck). But besides the fact that my pithy one-liner fell a bit flat, I couldn’t shake this question. Is the alcoholic loner sleuth more interesting and relevant? Or are we reading too much into this mystery/thriller trope in hopes of explaining why thriller authors seem to be paid more, or why some of our favorite authors don’t make certain award shortlists?
My firm belief has always been that a good book is a good book is a good book, and that if an author pens a great novel, readers will find it, read it, and pass the word.
Books are subjective. Reader’s tastes are subjective. So what the hell is this about the alcoholic, troubled loner sleuth?
Here’s my hypothesis. Say you have two characters. On one side of the street, in a pert yellow house with a picket fence, you have Mrs. Applebaum, a sweet, white-haired woman who likes to garden, cook, and gossip about the rising crime rate, especially to her niece, who is engaged to the local beat cop. On the other side of the street in a gray house with peeling paint, the dilapidation having set in ever since his wife left him ten years ago (just before she was murdered), you have Sam Devlin, cop-turned-PI, who hates life, loves alcohol, and blames himself for his ex-wife’s murder that he hasn’t yet solved.
We already like Mrs. Applebaum. Sam Devlin’s a different story altogether. It’s going to take a lot more for us to even want to get to know him, much less get close enough to smell the alcohol on his breath. Sure, we know he has a haunted past, that he’d like nothing more than to solve his wife’s murder, and that more than likely, somewhere along the way, he is going to run into a case that links her murder to something he is working on. But there is a certain amount of intrigue in this flawed character, perhaps because he guards his past, and now his present, so closely. Our curiosity gets the better of us, and, like the temptation borne from thinking about what could possibly be contained in Pandora’s box, we want to take a peek, certain we can slam it closed in time.
Or is it more than simple curiosity?
Perhaps it is a way to safely explore the dark underbelly of a world in which we live, coupled with the feeling of elation that we narrowly escaped death after taking that glimpse. When Mrs. Applebaum digs up a dead body from her garden, it will have been neat and tidy and there will be no mention of the maggots partaking of fleshly parts, and she will solve the case with a nifty confession from the suspect moments before her niece’s fiancé arrives on scene to take the suspect into custody.
Sam Devlin, however, is bound to have a few car chases that lead to bullets flying and gory body parts being strewn about the story with abandon, all while he is beat to a pulp, barely escapes, only to be caught in the end, just before the bad guy tells Devlin how he tortured his wife when he killed her, and how he plans on torturing Devlin just before he kills him—only to have Devlin turn the tables at the last second, killing the bad guy in a bloody battle and then walking off into the dark night, still a tortured soul. Both novels talk of murder, but when we finish the latter story, we are very grateful that it is just that. A story.
It’s the difference between the PG Snow White ride and the PG 13 Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. We know and love both rides, but the lines are much longer at Indiana Jones. The more tame ride, you can take young children to, because other than that brief glimpse when the wicked witch holds out the poisoned apple, the malevolent nature is well hidden. But with the other ride, the evil is there at every turn. It is not hidden. It’s designed to scare you. On purpose. It has bumps and wild turns, and snakes and the fear of possible death. And more importantly, the kids have to be so tall before they can even step onto that ride.
There’s something to be said for putting an age (or height) limit on an attraction. All audiences can ride the former, not all can ride the latter. Both rides are fun, but it’s a perceived difference. It must be better, because you have to be more grown-up to ride it.
And maybe that’s what it is about those loner PIs and operatives in the bigger, darker books. The perception is that you gotta be more grown up to read a thriller, but you can let your kids read a mystery.
Or not. But that’s just my opinion. What is yours?
Robin Burcell, an FBI-trained forensic artist, has worked as a police officer, detective and hostage negotiator. The Bone Chamber is her latest international thriller about an FBI forensic artist. The book video trailer for The Bone Chamber can be seen here: www.robinburcell.com/
(Hi from Hank: Yes, I know this cover is big. I fought Mr. Typepad, and Mr. Typepad won. I'm in New York today, and hope you're having a wonderful weekend!)