Monday, May 14, 2007

The Problem (or not) with Reviewing Mysteries

In this article on detective fiction by Edmund Wilson in The New Yorker, he claims, "I began to nurse a rankling conviction that detective stories in general profit by an unfair advantage in the code which forbids the reviewer to give away the secret to the public—a custom which results in the concealment of the pointlessness of a good deal of this fiction and affords a protection to the authors which no other department of writing enjoys. It is not difficult to create suspense by making people await a revelation, but it demands a certain originality to come through with a criminal device which is ingenious or picturesque or amusing enough to make the reader feel the waiting has been worth while."

This is interesting -- sort of like the dilemna faced when editors cut a trailer for a movie or when editors write flap copy. How much are you allowed to give away without revealing too much? Trailers often err in the direction of giving too much away just to get you in the seats. I noticed a trend starting maybe five years back of trailers revealing the second act close (usually around 60-90 minutes into a film). Which leaves little in the movie to surprise you.

Do you think reviewers are handicapped by the inverse problem? They can't give too much away without readers and authors crying foul play? So if a mystery is bad, they're limited in how they present their argument?

What's your vote?


AB said...

Good point, I never thought of it that way...of course, I never gave it too much thought...
Actually, I think it should be taken to another level, where even the fact that there is a twist in the tale is hidden. So, when it happens it's a complete shock.

I say - ban all reviews and reviewers and let viewers and readers discover it for themselves, through trial and error and word of mouth. What would that be like?

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

Edmund Wilson can kiss my butt. Giving away the ending iss lazy reviewing.
Nothing to prevent saying that the ending is bad and even why, and a good reviewer can do it with out spoiling it.