Each Thursday, I usually have a review of a mystery or crime novel. I’ve read mysteries since I was six years old, stating with Trixie Belden, graduating to the Hardy Boys, then Agatha Christie, and on from there. Today, some of the best writers our there can be found penning mystery novels – Anne Perry, Ian Rankin, Louise Penny, William Brodrick, and more.
It was with some eagerness that I started reading the book I planned to review this week. It was set in the town where I grew up, it was in a series of which I’d read the first (a big award winner) many years ago, and it had an interesting premise.
I do not have a review of this book, this week or any week. I will not mention the title or the author, to protect the guilty. But what a profound disappointment.
When I buy a mystery novel, I want to read a mystery novel. I don’t want to read what begins as a good story and then is marred by the author’s political prejudices. I’m not interested in the author virtue signaling as to how “woke” she or he is. I don’t want characters stereotyped into cardboard cartoons, and whole classes of people dismissed as ignorant, so the author can let his or her friends know how cool they are.
And it didn’t have to be this way. The novel has an interesting premise, several original supporting characters, and a knowledge of the geography and how people talk. But where it went awry was with the main character, the investigating police detective, who comes from a wealthy family but is hip, woke, aware, perceptive about privilege, and lives with a lover in the politically cool part of town. All of the politics flowed through this character, and it became tiresome.
I read the story to the end, even as the narrative started to collapse in on itself. The ending was contrived; the killer turned out to be a minor character who has a brief mention in the story. I think what happened is that the author got so caught up in politics that he (or she) lost control of the story and had to figure out a way to end it.
The reader, or at least this reader, got shortchanged. Which is a nice way to say I was ripped off.
This past weekend, in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I read a review of a local production of A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams in which the reviewer made the claim that all men in the 1950s wanted to be Stanley Kowalski, the sexy and abusive character played by Marlon Brando in the movie. On the same page, in a story about the new Gauguin exhibition opening at the St. Louis Art Museum. the writer included a sentence about how the legal age for women to marry at the time of Gauguin was 13, “a law written by men, likely, to benefit themselves.” No source was cited for either statement; they were included as bald statements of fact when they were nothing more than political statements castigating a particular group of people, in both cases, white males.
Our culture has allowed politics to saturate everything. Everything we do has become a political act fraught with implications. Everything we say is judged through a political prism. And everything I read in the newspaper has to be deconstructed to understand the writer’s (and the editor’s) political bias.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
My worry is that this is just beginning.
Photograph by Brian Wertheim via Unsplash. Used with permission.