As the author of two mystery/suspense novels (one awaiting responses from an assortment of publishers I’ve submitted to), I have been devoting increasing attention to the works of the big-name writers in that genre to plumb their modus operandi for what puts hordes of readers in their thrall.
Two of the most successful are James Patterson and David Baldacci. I’ve read a couple of Patterson’s books in the past, and just finished Baldacci’s Divine Justice. Their appeal is similar: complex plots to keep the reader wondering, which results in suspense throughout. It’s escapist literature.
But is it real? Not really. The characters are exaggerated, and don’t come across as credible, their dialogue too sanitized. They’re exercises in fantasy. The books in this genre are strictly commercial, not very instructional or revelatory about the human condition. In fact, the argument could be made that they are borderline literature, depending on one’s definition of the creative form. They are almost entirely entertainment, indulgences in a wannabe world.
But hey, it beats gluing oneself to the television, where nothing is left to the imagination. At least with escapist literature, some level of projection is required. It’s not all handed to you on a platter. You have to fantasize, and engage in a willing suspension of disbelief.
Such was my initiation into Baldacci. The main character in Divine Justice, John Carr, aka Oliver Stone, is not someone anybody would ever know. He is super man, flawless in his super-extraordinary physical prowess and his character. Carr’s ability to endure pain is beyond comprehension.
Sure, he assassinated a couple of guys as a CIA agent, but … there was a reason. The plot would have been sufficient if left with his pursuit by the feds and attempts to evade them, but it becomes far more intricate when he stumbles across a series of murders in the small town where his flight inadvertently lands him.
The whole thing has the reader utterly baffled, and as it begins to unfold, the book is impossible to put down. You have to find out what’s going on. So yes, it’s pure entertainment – the kind that transports you into a world only tangentially removed from make believe.
I can think of worse ways to spend one’s time. Texting, for good example.