Showing posts with label Gillian Flynn. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gillian Flynn. Show all posts

02 November 2018

The Complexity • Plausibility Intersection

by Janice Law

How about that title? In another life I spent time in academia and learned that a fancy title is better than an intelligible essay. However, pretension aside, the tension between complexity and plausibility remains one of the troubling features of our favorite genre.

It does seem unfortunate that the red herrings, misdirections, and deceptions of one sort or another so dear to the hearts of mystery writers and readers are usually the least plausible story features. Indeed, the more ingenious the puzzles the less realistic the plot. I may have been the only reader disenchanted with The DaVinci Code but I’ll bet I was not the only one who had to jettison all expectation of reality.

Worse, the more intricate the plot – and as someone who has always struggled with plotting I have the greatest admiration for the well-wrought narrative – the less memorable the story. Think about it: the great crime and punishment plots are the simple ones, in some cases, with the denoument foretold. In contrast, how many of us can remember more than the briefest impression of even the best crime novels? The reason, of course, is that in the service of mystification and suspense, the story inevitably loses simplicity in twists and surprises.
Don't listen to witches

This makes a good mystery fun to read but hard to remember, compared to say, Macbeth, which can be summarized in a phrase: witches’ prophesy drives noble Scot to regicide, tyranny and disaster. Try to summarize the life trajectory of the characters in Gone Girl, as compared to the biography of the ill fated Oedipus Rex: Abandoned king’s son returns to unknowingly kill father, marry mother; plague ensues. Simpler yet is the tale of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment: Student kills pawnbroker and has regrets.

Oedipus
There is no suspense in any of these, except the uneasy anticipation of the worst, and red herrings and clever plot are superfluous. The narrative line goes straight to the jugular, and once the action gets underway, the narrative is not just plausible but inevitable.

Few modern mystery writers will be so fortunate as to construct a plot as simple, powerful, and memorable as the classic crime tragedies, although John Steinbeck contributed a great novella of crime and sorrow with Of Mice and Men. Instead, rather surprisingly in a genre so reliant on action and plotting, the lasting memories of our favorites really rely on atmosphere and character.

With the possible exception of Who Killed Roger Ackroyd, the clever twists of Agatha Christie plots are lost to oblivion. Fortunately she created two iconic detectives in Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. They are what one remembers along with those toxic country houses, vengeful small towns, and dangerous resorts.

Ditto for Raymond Chandler whose plots were never very watertight but whose Philip Marlowe, stylized diction, and lush California settings remain indelible. Dorothy Sayers, like Agatha Christie, was fortunate to create two great protagonists with Lord Peter and Harriet Vane. Their plots are forgotten but not her characters, nor her snobbish delight in top nation venues and the heyday of the class system.

More recently, we have had detectives like Kurt Wallander, Bernie Gunther, Thomas Lynley, Barbara Havers, Commissaire Adamsberg, and Adam Dalgleish, all enjoyable to read with delightfully complex – but ultimately forgettable plots. Instead, we remember Gunther’s ghastly WW2 East front setting, Adamsberg’s dreamy eccentricities, Wallander’s decline into dementia, Lynley’s romantic tragedy, Havers’ dogged persistence, Dalgleish’s poetry.

Clever devices and complex narratives propel novels to the best seller list. But what lingers in the reader’s mind are character and atmosphere. And what gives writers long careers are memorable protagonists. The plots can be – and maybe must be, given market trends – exaggerated, the characters must still be plausible if the work is to linger in the mind.

Getting the balance right is difficult. I suspect that the tension between exciting (and surprising) action and the plausibly human is the reason why, despite excellent, sometimes brilliant, writing even the best crime fiction is set a step below contemporary or literary novels.

29 January 2018

Would I Lie To You?

by Steve Liskow

If a story uses a first person narrator, the most important action in that story is the telling. The narrator arranges the people and events in a way that serves his purpose. Since he has a stake in the story, sometimes he cheats. That's where the fun begins.




Many of the classics gain their power from the irony of a dissembling story-teller. Lockwood, the secondary narrator of Wuthering Heights, is too conceited to understand that Nelly Dean passes the buck in her tale of Heathcliff and Catherine's star-crossed love. Through negligence or prejudice, she causes every tragedy in the book and blames Heathcliff, whom she admits she loathed at first sight.

Dickens's Great Expectations thrives because Pip believes that Miss Haversham is polishing him to be worthy of Estella. By the time he understands that Magwitch is his real benefactor, he also realizes that Estella is a miserable woman who would be a horrible match for him.

Critics have argued about Henry James's The Turn of the Screw since its serialization in 1898, and James did little to settle the argument, calling his story merely a "pot-boiler to catch the unwary." His prologue (He almost never used a prologue) shows us a series of narrators who are either biased, lazy, or irresponsible, and the story seems to be an exercise in covering everyone's tush. Is it a ghost story, or did the governess hallucinate the shades of Miss Jessel and Peter Quint? The visions first appear when she daydreams about the handsome master who hired her under strange circumstances, so I tend to side with the Freudians even if they do get heavy-handed. I used to love assigning this story in my honors American Lit classes, especially those who had read Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream the previous year and picked up on the allusion to Peter Quince, the rude mechanical who wrote the hilarious play they perform at the end. Musician Quince Peters, who appears in my two novellas with Woody Guthrie, comes from the same source.

The danger of using irony is that readers may not understand. Contrary to increasingly popular mis-reading, Huckleberry Finn is NOT a racist novel (for that, I suggest Uncle Tom's Cabin, which portrays the black characters as docile and stupid, more like Labrador retrievers than people). Huck has been raised by a white-trash drunk and he repeats what he's heard about black people all his life. At the same time, he shows us that Pap, Tom, Boggs, Sherburn, the Grangerfords, the Shepherdsons, and the King & the Duke are lazy, greedy, stupid, violent, dishonest, or most of the above. Jim, on the other hand, is brave, loving, loyal, honest, and patient.

Never trust what someone tells you if he shows you something else.

If you write mysteries, the unreliable narrator should be near the top of your bag of tricks. Agatha Christie showed how far you can take this idea in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926). You don't have to go as far as Dame Agatha, but since people lie in mysteries, why deprive the narrator of so much fun?

Remember, you have to let the reader understand that something is rotten in the State of Denmark. A careless reader won't catch on (so much the better), but if you play fair and suggest along the way that narrator X spins more than bottles, you have lots of possibilities.

So, how do you play fair?

One way involves having the narrator say right up front that he prevaricates. In Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Chief Bromden is a paranoid schizophrenic in a mental hospital. He ends the first chapter by telling us, "It's the truth, even if it didn't really happen."

How much clearer can you get?

Holden Caulfield is a direct literary descendant of Huck Fin and a close relation to Chief Bromden. It still surprises me how many readers of Catcher in the Rye miss that Holden delivers his narration to a therapist after he's had a nervous breakdown.

Mary Katherine Blackwood, the narrator of Shirley Jackson's underappreciated We Have Always Lived in the Castle, is almost as crazy as Chief Bromden, but not as straightforward. "Merricat" tells us on page one that she's often thought she should have been a werewolf and that she likes Richard Plantagenet and the death's-head mushroom. We see her obsessive rituals to ward off "trouble," too. She lives with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian; the rest of the family died from eating sugar laced with arsenic on their strawberries. The small town shuns the family because they believe Constance evaded prison because of insufficient evidence. It's nearly the end of the book when those townsfolk trash the sisters' home and Merricat snarls, "I will put death in their food and watch them die." Constance says, "The way you did before?" and Merricat answers, "Yes."

She hasn't lied to us before about who poisoned the sugar. The subject simply hasn't come up in conversation. By the time it does, we've had ample opportunity to see that Mary Katherine Blackwood has more issues than the archives of the New York Times.

Gillian Flynn is equally clear in Gone Girl. Early in the book, Nick Dunne starts counting the lies he tells other people. This implies that he lies to us, too. Sure enough, when the police and Amy's parents call him out on various inconsistencies, he admits the truth...eventually. What makes the book so powerful is that Amy, the missing wife, lies even more than Nick...and even more skillfully.

Sometimes, the narrator shows you subterfuge without actually saying he lies. Chuck Palahniuk gives us a huge disconnect two page into Invisible Monsters. The macabre tableau involves Edie Cottrell's wedding reception--and Brandy Alexander bleeding out at the bottom of the stairs from a shotgun blast. Palahniuk's scene is horrific because it's so specific. Then the narrator shows her true colors: "It's not that I'm some detached lab animal just conditioned to ignore violence, but my first instinct is maybe it's not too late to dab club soda on the blood stain."

He's even clearer in Fight Club. 200 words into the story, he says, "I know this because Tyler knows this." Think about it. He repeats the comment throughout the book, too. That's fair.

Some narrators don't deliberately lie, but their background cause a bias that clouds their vision. I've mentioned Huck Finn, but think also of Nick Carraway, narrator of The Great Gatsby. Nick tells us his family is wealthy. His unconscious bias against the poor explains his letting Gatsby take the blame even though they both know Daisy drove the car that killed Myrtle Wilson. It's worth pointing out that Nick, who tells us he's the most honest person he knows, has two affairs during the book and came east to avoid marrying the woman he seduced back home.

Never trust what a character tells you if he shows you something else, remember?

In The Perfect Ghost, Linda Barnes shows us apparently agoraphobic Emily Moore, who mourns the death of her writing partner, killed in what might not have been an accident. At the same time, she starts sleeping with the famous director she and her partner were interviewing so they could write his biography. It may not be dishonest or unethical exactly, but it's poor enough judgment to make us examine the rest of her story more carefully.

Barnes, Flynn and Fitzgerald all use flashbacks, which delay the revelations because an altered chronology puts more pages between the contradictory details so readers are less likely to notice them. I generally avoid flashbacks, but nothing is off-limits if you do it really well. All three of these writers do it really well.

Another way to justify an unreliable narrator is to make him dumb or naive. Ring Lardner's short story "Haircut" (1926) features a barber telling a stranger about the events in a small Midwestern town. The story lasts as long as the customer's haircut, but Whitey the barber is too thick to understand how the people and events he describes fit together. By the end of his story, we understand that a murder has been committed. We know who did it, how, why, and that he will get away with it, too. Great stuff. And the unreliable narrator is the only way to make the story work.

Lardner's tale inspired my own story "Little Things." The two main characters are a bright eight-year-old boy and a shy six-year-old girl who meet when their respective single parents bring them to a miniature golf course. Amy lacks the wider knowledge to know that her experiences are not "normal," and Brian is too young to grasp the significance of what she tells him. Amy's mother and Brian's father are wrapped up in each other and don't even hear the little girl's revelations.

Everybody lies. But first person narrators do it better.

Trust me.


19 November 2017

The Fearlessly Fantabulous Flynn

by Leigh Lundin

Dale Andrews first brought Gillian Flynn to my attention long before she wildly captured movie goers’ imagination with a thriller based upon her third novel.

Gone Girl (2012) impressed me immensely, especially the plotting, one of the best mapped out stories I’ve read. To be sure, not everyone loved it. Marital cheating put off our Melodie Campbell and others. Some found it difficult to find likeable characters. A few thought it indulgently slow in places. Me? I admired it and reviewed it. It persuaded me to read her earlier novels.

Today’s article isn’t so much a review as a discussion about brilliant writing. I’ve become quite taken by Gillian Flynn. She might rate as one of the best novelists of our time. Gone Girl’s plot so dazzled me, I suspect I missed more subtle aspects, but I recently knocked off her first two novels, which cemented her reputation with me… and oddly one of those books disappointed me. But hold on…


Sharp Objects (2006) brings us Camille Preaker, a newspaper reporter who returns to her home town to research disappearing girls. This novel proves especially difficult to talk about without giving away too much, but let’s say Camille has problems… lots of problems, both past and present day.

Critics sparingly use the coveted words ‘honest’ and ‘authentic’ when talking about writing. Google those terms (at least after this article goes on-line), and you’ll see Gillian Flynn. She has a naked way of scratching words on paper. She doesn’t merely strip her characters bare, it feels like the writer herself types damning words while self-honestly exposed, self-flagellating, rawly nude, damp and shivering amongst cold drafts.

I can’t think of any author that comes close to this style. Strangely enough Anne Frank crossed my mind, the tiny observations and self-exploration, some edited out by a father intent on preserving the purity of her reputation.

The plot electrifies. As the story progressed, I narrowed the perpetrator down to two possibilities, and it worked out much as surmised. Camille manages to make mistakes, one nearly fatal and the other… nearly fatal. A sympathetic reader wants so much for the troubled heroine.

Dark Places (2009) brings out mixed feelings. Gillian Flynn has proved herself at every aspect of writing… observation, characterization, word-smithing, insight, suspense, and especially plot… except…

Seven-year-old Libby Day and her brother Ben, age 15, are the only two survivors of the mass murder of their family. Ben’s imprisoned, sent there by his tiny sister’s testimony. Libby, now an adult, is troubled, fearful, and doesn’t quite trust her memory of events. Persuaded by a club that investigates unsolved murders, she begins to look back… and forward.

One of the crafts Flynn handles so well is male viewpoints. She credits her husband and male friends, but I believe her innate understanding is better than she admits. This insight and empathy shines in all three of her novels.

Again, in this novel, her close observations and word crafting virtually invite study. She handles the tension well. Fully-formed characters populate the book. But I have a problem… or her perpetrator does.

Lewis Carroll’s White Queen tells Alice she believes as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Flynn asks us to believe only two, but they choked me.

The killer is introduced so late in the novel, I almost couldn’t believe I’d read it correctly. Then I’m asked to accept a premise for the killings that borders on Alice’s impossible… let’s say Improbable with a capital I. By introducing the murderer so late, it doesn’t give the reader time to accept the unlikely motive. Suspending readers’ disbelief takes much more time, effort, and consideration.

Sandwiched between two ultra-brilliant novels, I didn’t expect such a flaw to cap an otherwise fine novel. Not everyone agrees with me– it was nominated for a CWA Steel Dagger Award and a horror award called the Black Quill. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so it’s possible the director and writers dealt with these issues.

The Grownup. Saturday I ordered two books, one John Floyd’s recommendation of Gin Phillips’ Fierce Kingdom and a novella published in hardback by today’s go-to girl, Gillian Flynn’s The Grownup. After posting the main article, I downloaded the audiobook, closed my eyes, and listened for an hour.

Referred to variously as a ghost story and an homage to a ghost story, it’s a sixty page tale about an, uh, hooker who’s a psychic, right, and a woman’s weird and despised stepson, and a haunted house and… Fun and at times funny, it’s quite different from her other ventures. Give it a shot.

Gillian Flynn… Her books, her films… What is your assessment?

03 May 2015

Gone Girl

by Leigh Lundin

Gone Girl
Many months after the film's release, my library finally came through with a copy of Gone Girl three years after the book came out. Now this isn’t a review, this isn’t an erudite analysis, but it’s a commentary and defense of sorts of Gillian Flynn's tour de force, one of the smartest of crime novels, touched upon by Dale Andrews when the tale hit the bestseller list. It’s also one of the most meticulously plotted stories I’ve encountered.

Warning: May contain spoilers.

Melodie Campbell mentioned to me some reviewers were warning readers off the book, saying it had no sympathetic characters. After our conversation, I looked up reviews and many readers complained they hated the characters. Like reviewer Sheila DeChantal, some more subtly said their positions softened toward Nick. They became more forgiving when it became clear his wife was incapable of love and Nick became susceptible to a warm outreach and a soft place to fall, not that it justified tumbling into an affair however unsolicited. That affair ruined Nick in the eyes of many and spoiled the reading experience, no matter how essential it was to the plot.

I know what they’re saying– I want characters I can empathize with. I’ve been listening to old-time radio broadcasts from the 1940s-1950s of a popular program called Suspense. Often the narrator is a bad guy, conniving, weak, or doomed in some way, and after daily listening over many weeks, I found a diet of that viewpoint disheartening and depressing.

But I disagree with the negative assessments of Gone Girl for a number of reasons, not least that the author cleverly manipulates our feelings. Although Margo, Nick’s loyal sister is admirable in her own way, I most liked Detective Rhonda Boney. The detective is not only open to an alternate hypothesis regarding Nick, she’s the one person not fooled by Amy’s machinations. (To be fair, one reviewer complained sidekick Gilpin's sole purpose was to make Boney look good.)

I think of Amy as a Hannibal Lector of the mind, a psychological cannibal who preys on the trust of others. The book makes that even clearer than the movie– Amy will go to any length to punish those who offend her in the least way, to teach them ‘lessons’. To bring home the point, the novel includes an unfilmed scene where Amy throws herself down a stairway to implicate a girl who displeased her. Amy is a pure sociopath; others exist only to fulfill her wants.

Do you know as a reader, you can purchase not just books, but third party book reviews for a mere $7-10?


Readers shouldn’t miss the irony of Amy’s parents using make-believe packaging of their precious daughter in their children’s books, Amy is neither their fictional character nor who they think she is. Amy is adept at molding her personality to exploit others. While pretending to embrace the little compromises that make up all relationships, we learn that Amy disdains and despises petty accommodation.

PoV Male

Another feat of the author is how well she wrote from a male point of view. I found only one quibble where my suspension of disbelief wobbled– I didn’t know what a Tretorn was and question how many men would know. But as I said, that’s a mere quibble in a virtually perfect characterization where a masculine viewpoint has to be spot-on. The author gives credit for the male PoV to her husband and others, but ultimately she was the one who assimilated it and made it work.

PoV Ghouls

Another aspect Author Flynn pegged perfectly was the warning Detective Boney gave Nick that some predatory women would come out of the woodwork to ‘console’ him. The writer perfectly understood the type of ghoul, the kind who read the obituaries looking for that next relationship.

PoV Film

The film tracks amazingly close to the book’s story line, although the novel’s ending is subtly different and I, for one, retained the impression that Nick might well be a match for Amy in multiple senses. He’s the one person who truly understands his wife.

The novel contains only one scene I couldn’t recall in the movie, but in one place, the film outdoes the book, where Flynn pulled her punches but the director didn’t. I’m not one who cares for gore, yet Desi Collings’ final scene, glossed over in the novel, will shock movie goers in a way the printed page does not.

It’s worth noting in the novel, the lovelorn Gatsby-like character of Collings is more emphasized and we don’t feel quite so sad for him as we might in the film. Collings’ mother… I can’t quite decide if I vaguely like her or am frightened by her. Again, she’s a well-drawn character.

PoV Writers

Without the least bit of author intrusion, it’s obvious Gillian Flynn is well-read and well-educated. She mentions a number of literary works: Twain, Bradbury, O. Henry, O’Neill, Sarte, Lincoln. In the guise of Nick’s character, she also presents several movie and pop culture references, plus she educates the reader about Punch and Judy.

(I attended a wedding in France where the families set up entertainment for children in a barn, which included a Punch and Judy show. I thought that charming!)

PoV Readers

Beyond the readers who dissed the movie for lack of a likable personality, some sought to understand the various characters. One or two suggested that forgiveness is at the core of a loving relationship, the one thing Amy was incapable of, despite her professing to forgive Nick.

One reader suggested the sequel should be titled Run, Nick, Run.

Presumed Innocent

I highly regard Gone Girl for the brilliant way the author laid down clues. It favorably compares with Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, one of the best modern mysteries.

It occurs to me they have a lot in common, though Presumed Innocent is a clever fair-play mystery and Gone Girl is different, more a howdunit than a whodunit. Both feature wives who set out to punish husbands who strayed. Not just any wives, but brilliant, unscrupulous perpetrators willing to go to great lengths to prove their point. These are not women squeamish about biological byproducts nor the taboo of killing. The word ‘scheming’ seems a loaded word in this context, but my emphasis is on the painstaking planning in these crimes, where no step can be considered too small or too large.

Final Analysis

My description of a Hannibal Lector devourer of thoughts and emotions may not change the mind of anyone dead set against reading the novel, but Gone Girl exemplifies outstandingly detailed plotting. I highly recommend it to other mystery writers and readers as well.



Ruth Rendell
Ruth Rendell
Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell, one of my favorite authors of mystery classics, died yesterday.

I’ve enjoyed her books but I'll never forget one story about the lady. In her early career, she worked as a reporter for a county newspaper in southeastern England writing up less than scintillating topics. She managed to get herself fired by failing to do two critical things: (1) failing to attend a club dinner she was reporting on and (2) failing to mention the dinner speaker died during his speech.

Blessed be Ruth Rendell.

15 September 2014

A Cinderella Sleuth Story with a $5000 Prize

Melissa Yuan-Innes
by Melissa Yi

Hope Sze’s tale

Once upon a time, in the 21st century, a poor student lived in Montreal’s mouse-infested apartments, tending to the sick at all hours of the day or night, while more senior physicians mocked her and tore her dreams to cinders. Until one day, our Cinderella doc discovered a body outside an operating theatre. (Code Blues)

The other practitioners fled in fear, and ordered her to leave the case to the constabulary, but Cinderdoc set upon her own quest to discover the killer. And verily, she did, and it was good.

© savemiette
Two Princes stepped forward to claim her, eyes glassy with admiration, but first a grieving mother (Notorious D.O.C.) and then an illusionist (Terminally Ill) pressed their cases upon Cinderdoc, beseeching her for help. And so Cinderdoc became CinderSleuth, incessantly healing the ill and investigating the lawless.

Melissa Yi’s tale

Once upon a time, a starry-eyed girl longed to become a writer, but her parents and the rest of society urged her toward the far-safer path of medical school. While dissecting cadavers, Melissa’s subconscious brain rebelled and she began spinning an award-winning tale about corpses and music.

During residency, she continued weaving fantastic fables about vampirish school girls, wizards, and psychic children. After graduation, between shifts in emergency medicine, she renamed her alter ego Melissa Yi and created Dr. Hope Sze, the resident doctor who could fight crime as well as disease.

Occasionally, Melissa’s stories appeared in periodicals and anthologies distributed across the Commonwealth. But still, Melissa toiled in the trenches, longing for a fairy godeditor to touch her with a magic wand.

As Melissa crouched over her laptop in despair, two new fairy godparents appeared. The first was nearly invisible, but spoke with a seductive voice and carried a fortune in her hands. She said, “Come with me, child. You no longer need a magic wand to transmit your stories around the globe. With the tap of your keyboard, you can release Hope to the world through the miracle of independent publishing.”

The second godparent read the Hope stories and nodded his head in approval. “Melissa, my name is Kobo. I would like to offer you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We are hosting a ball to celebrate Princess Gillian Flynn. Would you like to write three psychological thriller tales in honour of her ascendant Gone Girl? Everyone who attends the ball and solves the riddles based on your stories may be awarded five thousand dollars.”

Melissa flew to the ball faster than a pumpkin coach could carry her, already formulating the stories in her mind.

Your tale

Once upon a time, which is now: A sharp-eyed, sharp-witted reader could win a Kobo Aura H2O and five thousand dollars. The best part of any fairy tale is the happily ever after, and in this case, it could be yours!

Kobo is sponsoring the Going Going Gone contest, which features three Hope Sze Gone Fishing mystery short stories. Hope escaped the hospital to take her dad fishing on the Madawaska River for his birthday, only to discover that her own family might represent the most dangerous wildlife of all.

Download the stories for free (“Cain and Abel,” “Trouble and Strife,” and “Butcher’s Hook”), solve one riddle per story, and you could win five thousand dollars.

Readers are rarely rewarded and fêted in our society, let alone fiercely intelligent readers who can solve ten puzzles before breakfast. When Steve Steinbock introduced me to SleuthSayers, I told Kobo, “These are exactly the people we need to talk to.” Gigantic thanks to Velma and Leigh for fitting me in on a tight deadline.

Please feel free to share the link, to brainstorm solutions together, and of course to admire Kobo’s beautiful platform and their newest e-reader, the Aura H2O, which can be read underwater! What would you do with five thousand dollars?

P.S. I was going to title this blog Cinderella with Guns, for no good reason except I liked the idea of a Cinderella detective, armed and dangerous. Someone beat me to it!


More Information


‘Going, Going, Gone’
Kobo Contest Challenges Mystery Lovers
Gather Clues For a Chance To Win
a Kobo Aura H2O and $5,000

by René d’Entremont

Toronto, September 5, 2014 – When not one but two bestselling thrillers are turned into highly anticipated, soon-to-be-released films, it is an opportunity too good to miss.

In anticipation of the release of film adaptations of Gillian Flynn’s hit suspense novels Gone Girl and Dark Places, Kobo, a global leader in eReading, today launched ‘Going, Going, Gone’ – a thrilling new contest that will put readers’ sleuthing skills to the test. The six-week contest closes on October 10, one week after the release of Gone Girl on October 3.

Read the eBooks. Solve the riddles. Enter for a chance to win $5,000 CAD and a Kobo Aura H2O.

Kicking off today, readers have the opportunity to channel their inner sleuth to solve puzzles by gathering clues found in three original short stories authored by acclaimed mystery writer Melissa Yi, available free of charge at the Kobo bookstore.

In the first story Cain and Abel, released today, readers are invited to go along for the ride when a camping weekend leads to much more drama – and distress – than desired.

Every two weeks, a new story will be released containing clues readers will use to figure out that story’s entry code. Three correct entry codes will enter readers into a contest for a chance to win a Kobo Aura H2O and $5,000 CAD.

“Blockbuster thrillers, such as Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places and Gone Girl, have always transported readers to new worlds. We’ve partnered on this exciting project with hot up-and-coming mystery writer Melissa Yi to take that idea to a whole new level,” said Robyn Baldwin, Marketing Manager, Kobo. “Booklovers will delve deeper than ever before into the kind of chilling mysteries that make the works of Gillian Flynn so incredibly popular—getting the chance to play detective in a fresh and exciting way.”

"It was wonderful to work with Kobo on such an imaginative contest," said Melissa Yi, Author. "I'm a huge fan of Gillian Flynn's work, so it's an honour to be able to connect with her books in such an innovative way. In the theatre, they talk about the fourth wall between the actors and the audience. As a writer, I feel like this contest breaks down the fourth wall between writers and the readers, so that the audience can dive into the stories — exploring and experiencing the mysteries for themselves."

Yi is a Southern Ontario-based thriller author and physician who channels her experiences as a medical doctor to write about everything from articles for the Medical Post to medical mysteries, suspense and romance novels. Her latest Hope Sze medical mystery, Terminally Ill, hit the Kobo Top 50 eBook List after Publishers Weekly hailed it as “entertaining and insightful.”

How to Play
  • Download the free Kobo reading app – available for the most popular smartphones and tablets – to read the short stories containing important clues needed to solve the riddles and identify the entry codes.
  • Download the stories. There are three short stories in all, and three codes needed to enter the contest.
  • Readers must enter all three entry codes correctly for a chance to win. Sharing this contest with friends and followers via Facebook, Twitter and email will earn additional entries.
  • The contest is open to legal residents of US, UK and Canada (excluding Québec). No purchase necessary. See full terms and conditions. (PDF)

The first short story, Cain and Abel, is now available and can be read with a Kobo eReader or any of the company’s apps.

The series includes:
  • September 05 – Cain and Abel
  • September 16 – Trouble and Strife
  • September 29 – Butcher’s Hook
For more information about author Melissa Yi, please visit her web site.

About Rakuten Kobo Inc.

Rakuten Kobo Inc. is one of the world’s fastest-growing eReading services offering more than 4-million eBooks and magazines to millions of customers in 190 countries. Believing that consumers should have the freedom to read any book on any device, Kobo provides consumers with a choice when reading. Kobo offers an eReader for everyone with a wide variety of E Ink eReaders and Google-Certified Android tablets to suit any Reader’s style including the award-winning Kobo Touch™, Kobo Mini, Kobo Glo, Kobo Aura, Kobo Aura HD, Kobo Arc, Kobo Arc 7, Kobo Arc 7HD, Kobo Arc 10HD – and the newly launched Kobo Aura H2O. Along with the company’s free top-ranking eReading apps for Apple®, BlackBerry®, Android®, and Windows®, Kobo ensures the next great read is just a page-turn away. Headquartered in Toronto and owned by Tokyo-based Rakuten, Kobo eReaders can be found in major retail chains around the world. For more information, visit Kobo.com

11 September 2012

Settings

by Dale C. Andrews

     Fiction, at its best, does more than just tell a story -- it tells a story in a setting.  Good fiction immerses the reader – we are propelled into the narrative and into its setting.  And the setting crafted by the author reflects the world around the author, or the author’s characters, at the time of the story.  The story told in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is part and parcel with the French Revolution.  A Dickens novel is often almost as much about setting as it is about story.  Oliver Twist is dependent on the injustices that were a side effect, and a very real side effect, of the industrial revolution.  And as I noted some months back, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in fact grew out of a non-fiction essay that Dickens wrote addressing the deplorable mid-nineteenth century working conditions in England and the need for child labor reform.

    No surprise, then, that setting is also a major component of great mysteries.  Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes cannot be separated from Victorian England.  I add the proviso of “Doyle’s Sherlock” since, to my mind, the BBC series Sherlock does a sensational job of re-imagining Holmes in modern day London.  But even there, it is modern day London, with its Blackberries and computers, that provides the setting backbone to the stories. 

The Doorbell Rang (NOT the newest Clint Eastwood sequel!)

    In Rex Stout’s 1965 Nero Wolfe novel The Doorbell Rang, which The Nation described as “the best civil liberties mystery of all time” the story is dependent on then-current FBI abuses under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover who, famously, Wolfe leaves standing on the stoop of his brownstone at the end of the book.  Similarly, Ellery Queen’s The Glass Village, and its theme that accusation must never be a substitute for evidence, is dependent on its setting -- the McCarthy era that pervaded the mid-1950s when the novel was written. 

    To read these books is to experience what it was like to live in the eras depicted. It is no surprise that all of this remains true today.  Two recent (and sensational) new mysteries by a pair of gifted writers, Tana French and Gillian Flynn, who are separated by many thousands of miles, tell stories in different  settings, but settings that are still eerily analogous and in each case reflective of our time.  More on that below, but first, some background on each author.

Tana French
Gillian Flynn
    Gillian Flynn grew up in Kansas City Missouri, a state in which her three mystery novels are set.  Before she became a novelist Flynn was was a television critic for Entertainment Weekly. She was educated at the University of Kansas, and received a masters degree from Northwestern.  Her first novel, Sharp Objects, was a 2007 Edgar nominee for best first novel.

    Tana French in fact received the Edgar for best first novel when In the Woods, was published the following year  Although she was born in the United States, Tana French spent most of her early years abroad.  She received a degree in acting from the University of Dublin, and since 1990 has resided in Dublin, where each of her four mystery novels is set. 

    So, other than leaping into the world of mystery fiction within one year of each other there is very little that either of these women share.  Yet each has crafted their most recent novel in settings that, while thousands of miles apart, nevertheless resonate with common themes.

    A teaser on Gillian Flynn’s website describes her new book, Gone Girl, as follows:
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River.
And here is the description of Tana French’s new book, Broken Harbor, as set forth on her website:  
On one of the half-built, half-abandoned “luxury” developments that litter Ireland, Patrick Spain and his two young children are dead. His wife, Jenny, is in intensive care.
    The principal setting of each novel is therefore very different.  What, after all, does a small Missouri town  have in common with the outskirts of Dublin?  But there is an undercurrent in each setting that is the same and that is reflective of the times in which we live.  Each author has taken the pulse of the present and has built a setting for her novel that rings true and, as a result, ensures that each story rings true. 

    Broken Harbor is set in a community of new homes on the coast of Ireland that failed as a result of the economic downturn that has shaped many lives in recent years.  The home that the unfortunate family lives in is surrounded by abandoned or half finished homes, and the couple at the heart of the novel has had to grapple with the horrors of losing a job in an economy where jobs are increasingly hard to find.  From that setting, which is to say from their world, the story springs.

    And that community of “McMansions” that is the setting for Gone Girl?  Well, there are remarkable similarities between Gillian Flynn’s Missouri housing development and that depicted in Tana French’s novel.  The couple at the heart of Gillian Flynn’s novel also find themselves in a development that is a casualty of world-wide economic downturn.  Like the family in Broken Harbor, the couple in Gone Girl is surrounded by homes that are abandoned and in foreclosure, and other homes that stand as half completed derelicts.  As in Broken Harbor neighboring homes are abandoned as a result of foreclosure, or sit half completed.  And in each book there are wandering homeless people living or gathering in the empty homes.  And here, too, the central characters in the mystery have lost their own jobs as a result of economic downturn. 

    I have written before that I hate spoilers.  So you will get no more of the plots of these wonderful newly-published novels from me.  But they are both great reads, and like many mysteries and other well written books over the years, they gain strength from the fact that they are set in a world that we know.  The heart of each story beats to the world’s pulse.  The setting may be a bit bleak in each case, but, after all, that never stopped Dickens.