Mystery writers have it hard

I read Ruth Rendall’s From Doon With Death, the first of the Inspector Wexford novels, this week. And I guessed the killer about halfway through the book.

I never guess the killer. Ever.

The book is a good one, with interesting characters and tight plotting. I enjoyed it. But it was set in … what, the late 1950s? And what amounts to a disturbing and unsuspected psychological twist for the time has moved from “unusual and disturbing,” through “expected and horrible,” and into “gosh I’m glad we’ve moved on as a culture from thinking that way about people.”

The shocking plot twist of the novel is now passe.

It’s still a good book; Rendall is a good author and she makes the book live on a number of levels, not merely plot. But I was thinking back to the first time I’d encountered this plot twist, in a not-very-good movie when I was in high school. At that point such a twist was no longer a twist, and other forms of shock were employed by the movie in question.

It’s hard for writers to stay current, to keep their cultural references timeless or culture-specific. Science fiction writers talk about this all the time, about how science fiction is always science fiction of the time in which it is written, not the time in which it is set. I hadn’t really considered that mystery writers have similar problems. I suppose I ought to have, but I hadn’t.

If you have not read Ruth Rendall’s work, From Doon With Death is a good place to start. It’s iconic, it’s well-written, it’s short and to-the-point and strong. I recommend it.

And I’m glad that plot twist is no longer quite in fashion.

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2 Responses

  1. I may be forgetting but isn’t that the one where the (female) victim’s mysterious lover turns out to be… A WOMAN!!!!! ?

  2. Yep, that’s the one!

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