The crime novel I'm currently reading is in danger of being tossed. Several years back I stopped believing that I have to finish any book I start, and this one would already be gone if a friend hadn't recommended it. I trust her, so it has to get better, but right now I'm pretty unhappy with the author's coyness.

Teasing the reader, giving her the tiniest snatches of information in a jumbled mess of characters, events, and unexplained flashbacks, becomes irritating to me after while. Of course it's a mystery and we aren't going to know everything right away, I get that. But dilly and dally too long and I start thinking maybe you're too cute, or think you are. It takes a very accomplished writer to bring several introductory scenes together so the reader feels she is being guided into the story by a friend and not bamboozled by a trickster. And hopefully all those scenes mean something to the end result, hopefully an author isn't just baiting that hook with shock and confusion so some agent somewhere says, "Oh, this will get their attention!"

Dickens was a master storyteller. Apparently unrelated events, backstories, and character traits are slid into, say, A Tale of Two Cities so well that the reader is both surprised and pleased at the final meshing. Until I learned to trust him I was doubtful, but an author can lead me in twelve different directions if I know he's going to wrap it up eventually in a way that makes me close the book with a satisfied smile. (Think Laura Lippman.) I hope the guy I'm reading now is able to do that, because after 72 pages I don't feel drawn to anyone in the book. I'll go along for the ride, hoping he can make sense out of the chaos he began with, but I'm ready for things to start making sense any page now.

That's what suspense, mystery, and the majority of crime fiction is all about, I suppose, taking chaos and making sense of it, making a story out of emotions and actions. At its best, it's the best sort of entertainment.

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