Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Opinion — Counter-Promotion, Noir and Me, or Is It Noir and I?

Most of my books have a slight uptick at the end. It’s as if I mean to say is that despite all the murder and mayhem, “all is not lost.” Generally speaking the bad guys pay. The main characters, including many supporting players, survive for another book. On the other hand, the stories have occasional bursts of violence and the general flow of the narrative may have a dark overlay. I don’t decide to write this way. It’s just the way it comes out.

If I’ve ever written a book that could be considered noir, it would be the most recent, Good to the Last Kiss. It belongs to neither of my ongoing series’. In Good to the Last Kiss, the world isn’t a nice place. The characters are having a terrible time convincing themselves there is a reason to go on. There is an end to the story. Everything is wrapped up. The reader knows who did what to whom. But there is a sense that the only thing that has changed is that a few more ounces of hope have been drained from their souls.

That ought to get you to go right out and buy it, right?

That’s the thing, isn’t it? Especially in mysteries, from noir to cozy, there are expectations. Some readers not only want things wrapped up but given some assurance that the world is all right again. A brave and honest cop, a clever private detective or a heroic vigilante eliminates evil. In best of noir, as I understand it (I might be oversimplifying the definition a bit), we are reassured everything is hopeless, perhaps the characters are punished for having hope in the first place, and when fate deals its final blow, we can just go on about our business, shaking our head at the futility of it all. That’s not quite what happens in Good to the Last Kiss, either.

As is the case with all my books, I ask a few people to read the manuscript before my final edit. These are friends who have read many of the near-to-last drafts and pretty much know what to expect. They generally like the books, some more than others. And generally they know what to expect. Comments may range from “she wouldn’t wear that perfume” or “too many lunches” (I have a tendency to write about what I know) or possibly so and so “should be a little tougher” or “you don’t walk ‘down’ that street, you walk ‘up’.” But Good to the Last Kiss was different. This time I got an intense reaction. A few hated the book. Some were shocked or even embarrassed by it. Still others thought it the best book I’ve written. What came out is an ending that probably doesn’t meet any of the usual expectations — pleasing neither one camp nor the other.

I think that’s good. But even if it isn’t, it is what came out and what felt real to me.

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