Musings

[Blog] A Satisfying Mystery

Or, for an alternate title, Why ‘The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ Annoyed Me.

First off, apologies to anyone who particularly enjoyed the aforementioned book. I don’t at all mean to offend, I’m glad you found it wonderful, and more power to you. I also don’t mean to argue that it’s a bad book, just that I didn’t like it as much as some others and ended up spending a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out why that was. (And for those of you who have not read it, be warned that there are spoilers to follow.)

Part of it is that I just didn’t like the narrator. Especially not at the beginning. For myself, there are a lot of mild annoyances and frustrations in a story that are easy to overlook if I enjoy the characters and the narrator. The flip side of that, though, is that I will struggle to enjoy a solid and interesting story if the characters annoy me or if I can’t relate to them. Having the narrator not know who he was definitely added to that as well; it is extraordinarily difficult to write a compelling character when they don’t know who they are. More so when who they are keeps changing.

And that, I think, leads into what annoyed me the most: there was nothing that I, as the reader, could latch onto as an accepted fact. The rules would change. I couldn’t trust what the characters saw or said, because the next go ’round would have me believe that the exact opposite was true. I realize this makes me sound petulant. Part of the whole appeal of a mystery story is the fact that everything isn’t what it seems, but this is where I keep getting stuck. Not only was nothing as it seemed, but I also didn’t have the information I needed to make educated guesses about what was going on. All while the Plague Doctor is lurking about here and there making ominous statements and being generally unhelpful.

It’s similar to the difference between the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries and Sherlock Holmes stories. Both are mysteries, certainly, but with Wimsey the clues are all carefully laid out one by one and while there are absolutely false leads and dead ends, the information you as the reader receive is enough to bring you to an educated guess. With Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales, the clues are all there, but they are often such that no one but Holmes himself could suss them out. And it’s probably why, as a whole, I prefer Dorothy Sayers’ gentleman sleuth to the legendary Mr. Holmes.

But back to Evelyn Hardcastle.

By the time I got to the end of the book, I found a story that felt like I should have enjoyed more than I did. The twists were interesting. And the characters’ final choices were the sort of thing that seemed like they should have landed with more of an emotional punch. And here I think the fact that there wasn’t a clear path leading to what was actually going on did the book a disservice. It felt less like the clues had been there but so cleverly disguised that I couldn’t see them except in retrospect, and more like they had been hidden altogether while I was deliberately led in the wrong direction.

So, maybe I’m just mad about getting tricked. I told you I was feeling a little petulant.

But the more I think about it, that’s it: I have no problem getting to the end of a book and admitting that I in no way saw the ending coming. Heck, that’s half the fun. The other half is looking back and seeing all the things that now seem like bright red flags marking what was actually going on and getting to see everything with the benefit of hindsight because it opens up an entirely new dimension that you couldn’t have seen before.

It’s just that that’s not how I felt when I got to the end of Evelyn Hardcastle. It wasn’t that there had been clues all along the way that I just hadn’t noticed, hadn’t picked up on, it was that there was no way I could have come to the correct conclusion with the facts I was given. Or even gotten to the general vicinity of the correct conclusion.

But maybe that’s just me. What about you? If you’ve read it, did you enjoy it? Were there really a whole bunch of hints and clues that I missed because I was too busy being annoyed? Let me know in the comments!

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