I used to claim that I read everything that crossed my path and, as a young person, selection was not important since any book could teach me about life. Later I became a ‘serious’ reader concentrating on philosophers (who I didn’t understand), history that helped me piece together trends in today’s world, and biographies of famous people that were far more boring than a reader wants.
Reading today is impacted by the volume of pages on the internet. The urge to engage with ideas and words (and images) can be satisfied daily on Facebook, depending on who you follow.
So reading for relaxation takes a backseat in today’s world. Writers offer a series of books with returning characters like the Jesse Stone series by Robert B. Parker to build a brand name. Readers return to discover the new case and Stone’s cynical solutions for finding bad guys adept at hiding their empires in small towns.
I have avoided murder mysteries over the decades of reading, partly because I figure out who-dun-it too early in the chapters. Crime stories are mostly about people in the seedier side of life, so I find them grim and difficult to finish. Also the patois (accepted slang) of city detectives seems dated and forced in many stories, pushing the conceit to an impenetrable extreme. Who can forget Don Cheatle’s explanation in Oceans 12 that even the lead characters couldn’t follow? – We have a Barney here!
So what motivation to finish reading WIDOW by suspense writer and Bram Stoker nominee Billie Sue Mosiman? We follow three primary characters (a female victim-turned-killer, a Texas detective, a demented copycat killer) through scenes in titty bars and madhouses, each speaking a distinct patois, to view the losers and naive victims who are easy prey for a couple of serial killers.
Mysteries and crime novels have raised the bar for gruesome violence to a degree that the most depraved acts are no longer shocking. Who remembers our collective shock in Chinatown when the female lead admitted her sister was her daughter by her father? That revelation seems tame now.
The addition in WIDOW of a haunted mansion, a savvy homeless woman, and a eager-beaver junior detective provided questions about where the story was going and how these influences would impact the ending. Unfortunately, these elements were pushed aside for a more conventional denouement.
I did finish the story, though, mostly to see how the killers and detective performed when they were knowingly in a room together – although each met and talked with the others more than once. What happens next? The morbid curiosity was active, and the characters well drawn enough that I could put the story down and return with a memory of events and who was in the next scene.
Another convention in crime stories is the death of the bad guy in a shoot-out – no trial or lawyers or media. Our copycat killer dies violently of course; that was assumed. But do the detective and dancer blame all evil on him and build a life from the ashes? You’ll have to invest the time I burned up to learn their fates.