I haven’t read a lot of mystery novels lately save for the Millennium series of course. I think that’s mainly because I’m seeing a major problem with mystery fiction.
Mystery fiction that purely focuses on just that, the mystery, has a nasty habit of pulling a bait-and-switch in the third act. And I know I normally don’t like using such antiquated clichés but that is what happens. The character is suddenly presented with a body of evidence that completely supports a new potential murderer despite that person being cleared previously.
It happens more often than it should.
Other mystery novels either anticipate the audience deducing the mystery early; thus using that to build tension, while others simply build a larger story around that mystery and lessen time with it and giving the novel more substance. Both are great methods.
But I’ve been reading a fair bit of historical fiction lately and I’ve noticed myself undergoing the same sense of deduction and curiosity that I did with mystery.
Specifically how these stories will build into the historical facts that I know.
Take the novel The Skystone by Jack Whyte.
Oh yeah! That’s how daddy likes it!
This novel is part of a nine book series that makes a non-magical attempt at telling the King Arthur story, running from the very basic origins to the fall of Camelot. Now can you guess what part of the Arthur legend the first book deals with?
I bet you can!
And that’s part of the fun! The knowledge that these events will lead to the great myth we all know! Hence the curiosity in how they play out and lead into the rise of Arthur. I argue it’s better than the King Arthur film and the Merlin and Camelot series. Why? Because it takes its damn time. Rather than rush through characters that would be bit parts in other media, the book introduces you into their lives and makes you care for them, all the while teasing the question of whom is the ancestor of Arthur and Merlin!
I mean, I have my guess but I can be wrong!
And that’s a great mystery to me! Anticipation built up even before the book starts because of the pre-existing myth. There’s existing context just waiting to be filled in so we can be given a rare look into the very psyche of the author by seeing the connections in logic. It’s just fascinating!
If you read my entry on nostalgia you’ll recall I commented that works that relied on pre-existing pieces without having enough substance to function without them are intrinsically flawed. In terms of historical fiction I argue that’s one thing books have been the superior medium for. That is on the simple basis that length isn’t restricted by budget. In fact, it’s encouraged.
It’s an interesting thought, that we have an entirely new way to promote mystery by revisiting pre-existing works. It remains to be seen if someone intrepid enough capitalizes upon it.
So too does this work exist.