I’m a writer, but I’m also a reader. And today, I want to put on my reader’s hat and talk to you about my pet peeve.
I love all genres, but since my kids were teenagers, I have tended to genres that have some semblance of closure or happy endings. I lean heavily toward romance (guaranteed HEA) and mysteries (generally solved). Now that my kids are grown and gone, I might be more tolerant of books that don’t end, only stop–but probably not. I want closure in my entertainment. I don’t want the bad guy to get away… he might be out there stalking me next. I want justice to prevail. I want the monster to be killed. Find some cool way to resurrect him in the next book, but make this one END.
I want to take this opportunity to make a suggestion to all you mystery and thriller writers out there… Your Hero Doesn’t Have To Be Miserable. There. I said it. There are plenty of life lessons to learn that do not revolve around the romantic trappings of life. In order to be an amateur sleuth, you don’t have to be single, unlucky in love, or recently bereaved. A happily married person can solve a crime.
You can have conflict and back story without killing off every significant other. People who are happy and settled can be just as good at following clues as your tormented just-been-widowed person.
When I was a teenager, I read every Robert Ludlum book that hit the bookshelves. Even as a youngster, I noticed the ‘formula’. Almost every book starts out with a woman’s death. Then her husband/boyfriend/lover is shown to be shattered and ruined while the plot thickens with a conspiracy of frightening proportions. I wasn’t seventeen before I stopped buying and reading Ludlum. If you haven’t read all his books, you just need to imagine the Matt Damon movies. First in The Bourne Identify, he finds a girl… first scene of the second movie… you get my point.
I love Dana Stabenow‘s Kate Shugak series, but I haven’t read the past few books. I finally realized why. In the first few books, Kate has a boyfriend and just as they are getting serious–willing to bend and share a life together–Stabenow killed him off. Then, for the next few books, Kate is tortured and miserable. Then she starts dating again, and the character she dates is one that has been around since the beginning. We know him. He’s a charmer. I am so afraid that she’s going to kill him off (TOO!) that I quit buying her books.
Mystery and Thriller authors–I don’t want to stop buying your books.
I understand that some protagonists will have tragic circumstances. Tony Hillerman‘s Navajo Tribal police books are classic examples. Joe Leaphorn would not be the interesting detective he is without his wife’s longterm illness and death. But now that he’s moved on, I don’t want his new love interest to be a casualty. I like Joe with a little happiness in his life. He’s suffered enough. Same with Kate Shugak. She can find some dead bodies and identify the killer without any more personal angst. I know she can.
Think of The Thin Man movies based on Dashiell Hammett’s book. Nick and Nora Charles drink and dance the night away while Nick solves crimes. They are happily married and have a cute little dog. The movies that popularized these characters were more successful than the original short story which didn’t focus on the couple.
I get that some characters have to be sad and tortured. But not all of them. Some people can be happy and just deal with baggage left over from childhood. JD Robb’s highly successful franchise Eve Dallas is happily married. She has enough angst going on for all of us. Not all protagonists have to have an outstanding romantic loss to solve a crime or track down some conspiracy. Just sayin’.