In search of a good mystery

I have a hard time with mysteries.  I read Lori Rader-Day’s Little Pretty Things this week and I didn’t love it.  So, I started racking my brains trying to think of mysteries I have read that I did love.  Um… I really liked The Westin Game in 7th grade.  Does that count?  Oh, wait!  Gone Girl!  I liked Gone Girl a lot.

Whereas the list of mysteries I didn’t enjoy in the last few years includes… Shutter Island, The Girl on the Train, The Lovely Bones, The Davinci Code, Lock In, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo… These are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.  I don’t read too many mysteries, and I am usually disappointed by them.  This is a me problem, I know.  It goes something like this: If I can solve the mystery before the end of the book, then the story was too heavy handed and the author is not smart enough.  If the ending is so off the wall that no person could logically piece it together, then the story is stupid and full of holes and the author is not smart enough.  If some new piece of information is revealed on the second to last page that suddenly points to the true criminal, then that’s not very fair at all and the author is not smart enough.  I’m difficult.  I know.

Little Pretty Things was a disappointment in several ways.  Here are 3 of them.

  1. Most importantly, the mystery was not very mysterious.  You pretty much know who the murderer is as soon as he walks on the scene.  It turns out that you suspect him for the wrong reasons and that his actual motivation is unbelievable and incompatible with the character that has been painstakingly if transparently developed, but he still did it and you still knew it all along.
  2. The main character, Juliet, is hard to believe in.  She’s trapped by her own inertia, which I get, but she’s also someone who has failed to pick up on clues for about 20 years, but all of a sudden is able to solve a murder mystery.  I’m not buying it.  Other characters have similar inconsistencies. The author’s attempts to make everyone a suspect resulted in a bunch of wishy washy characters.  This could have worked by reminding us that people are neither good nor bad and that all of us are capable of making both healthy and unhealthy decisions and of feeling both compassion and envy, but it frankly fell short.
  3. Everyone in this book is living in the past and by the past, I mean high school.  The victim has a good reason for this and I can maaaaaybe believe in Juliet’s arrested development.  Absolutely no one else gets a pass.  The whole premise of this book appears to be that in a small town everyone’s glory days was high school and ten years later, people are still more invested in their high school dramas than in the lives that they have built (or failed to build) for themselves since then.  I call bullshit. Look, high school is dramatic for everyone and for some of us it is intensely shitty.  Anyone who is pretending otherwise gets a huge wake up call every time there is another tragic school shooting.  The thing is, though, that for most of us, a little distance does wonders.  As we move beyond the tumult of those hormone fueled years, we let go of the high school dramas and regrets.  It fades and life goes on for pretty much all of us, but in the world of Little Pretty Things, that is apparently not the case.  I am unconvinced.

So, I need recommendations.  I want to read a mystery that is complicated, but not unbelievable with characters that are complex and true and a context that doesn’t annoy me.  Easy, right?


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