Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Coming Up Roses

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It occurs to me, looking through these posts, that I’ve been no fun lately.  Sometimes I think I’ve been no fun for years, but I don’t have the patience to go looking for that many blog posts.

And, to tell you the truth, I’m not feeling all that upbeat today, either, although I at least know what I’m cooking for dinner, which is better than I’ve been doing for the last week.

Mostly I think I’ve just been wondering how people manage when they don’t think about the things I think about as a matter of course. Politics. Literature.   America’s Next Top Model.

I also keep running across people who declare that they don’t think about anything.  I don’t mean that they’re stupid–even stupid people think about things; stupidity is not usually about not thinking but about not thinking well–but that they claim to be more or less blank, with the internal screen turned off most of the time, unless something comes up that gets their attention.

A part of me is stubbornly convinced that this is not actually possible, no matter how often these people tell me it is.  I’m not sure my brain ever turns all the way off, even when I sleep.  God only knows my dreams seem to be both convoluted and bizarre.

On the other hand, the things I do thing about–other than the usual worrying–don’t seem to make much sense either.

The New Hampshire primary has come and gone, for isntance, and I paid a good deal of attention to it, but I can’t really think why.

My tendency is to feel that the Republicans are not serious about fielding a candidate for this election. 

I think this because there are credible Republican candidates out there, but none of them is running–and the candidates that are running are, with the exception of Romney, just completely bizarre. 

Granted that Michelle Bachmann faced an unusually hostile press, she also conducted her campaign with less competence than the average candidate for Student Council President.

And Newt, God bless him, has more baggage than a Fifth Avenue luggage store.

As for Romney, he’s so blow-dried and plastic, he looks like he was manufactured last week in Taiwan.  And it’s not like he has a lot to say.

Every once in a while, one of the candidates I have no use for otherwise will come up with an idea that I really love, but I will ultimately appear to be the only person listening to it.

If the press had spent less time making googling the more exotic definitions of Rick Santorum’s last name, they might have taken note of his signature tax plan, which would a) reduce tax brackets to 2, 10% and 28% and b) eliminate ALL deductions except for home mortgage, children, charitable contributions, retirement savings, and health care expenses.

This ought to be a very interesting idea to both sides of the political divide.  If it is what it says it is, it will not only simplify the tax code so that ordinary people could actually understand their income tax forms without shelling out their cash for high or low level accountancy advice, but it would constitute the single largest increase in taxes for the rich since the income tax was introduced in the first place.

I don’t know the particulars, however, because we’re all too busy wondering when an abortion is really an abortion.

And I wouldn’t vote for Santorum if you paid me money and made me Queen of England, but I’d like to hear that idea discussed, floated out there, discussed, considered. 

Sometimes the things I think about are just sort of oddly formless.  I think about mystery novels a lot, of course, but I also wonder why so many of the new ones are so oddly drifty.  They’re not fair play, exactly, and cozy isn’t the issue–you can get lots of well plotted fair play cozy mysteries. 

No, in a lot of the ones I see lately, it’s almost as if nobody–writer, editor, reader–is much interested.  And I’m including readers in this, because a number of them sell reasonably well, even if they don’t end up on the NYTs Best Seller List.

In a couple of cases, I think I can explain it by the fact that the series characters are very engaging.  I actually have one series I follow mostly because I want to know What They’re Going To Do Next.  In other cases, I just don’t get it.

But then, I’m very aware of the fact that I have no real sense of why novels sell and why they don’t. 

This is especially true in mystery novels, because my taste in mystery novels is very specific and not the usual sort of thing. 

And I don’t usually pick books to read because they’re best sellers.  I don’t reject them for that reason, either.  It’s just that I don’t usually know what’s on the lists.   I read sort of the way I write.  I like what I like the way I like it, and then I don’t worry about it.

But Robert’s post about how to have a best seller got me wondering, because those aren’t the things I thought were popular.

The thing about writing a novel where everybody is better off now that the villain is dead, though,  is what I think of as one of the perennial problems of the mystery genre.

The simple fact of the matter is that most people who end up murdered by something other than a random robbery end up murdered for a reason.  They tend to be unpleasant people in a number of ways.

You can, of course, construct a mystery where the victim is the saintly old lady at the end of the block whose house happens to sit on a fortune in gold or oil and who gets killed as a way to rob her blind–but you really can’t do that over and over again, and it’s not all that realistic even once.

People do not usually commit murders willy nilly, or on automatic pilot.  They usually have to be pushed to the wall.  If your victim is the sort of person who can push somebody to the wall, the chances are he’s making a lot of people miserable, and not just the murderer’s.

And there is, of course, the perennial issue between legal and absolute justice.

There’s some good Christie–and good P.D. James–putting forward the proposition that the law must prevail, and justice is not done if it isn’t, no matter how vile a person the victim might be. 

But there is also a fair amount of very good work–Christie, again, with Murder on the Orient Express–putting forth the proposition that justice is larger than the law, and sometimes needs to prevail in spite of the law.

It’s the old “would you have killed Hitler?’ question, although the victims are almost never Hitler. 

I haven’t really noticed an increase in this kind of thing recently, although I may just have been reading the wrong books.  My problem with the premise tends to be that it’s been overdone to death. 

For what it’s worth, there’s a book out there, The Blue Diary, by Alice Hoffmann, that does a sort of interesting rift on this sort of thing.

In it, it turns out that one of the town’s most respected and beloved citizens, a faithful husband, good father, community leader and volunteer, hard worker and all the rest of it–

It turns out that this man had, some 25 years before, strangled to death his then-girlfriend and fled the scene.  The police  have been looking for him ever since.

And in the beginning, the situation goes the way these situations tend to go.  There is a great public outcry against arresting this guy and trying him–after all, it was all those years ago, and his life has been exemplary ever since, he really is a good person, a better person than most people.

The longer the situation lasts, however, the more–well, I don’t know how to describe it.  The book came out at about the time that one of the old Weathermen was discovered living under an assumed name somewhere, and this book always seemed to me to be Hoffmann’s rif on that.

She’s not sympathetic.

Maybe the truth is that the fictional construct of the murderer whose murder does not define him–whether because he killed somebody heinously awful, or because he lived an exemplary life ever afterwards–is just that, a fictional construct. 


I told you I was drifty today.

Written by janeh

January 11th, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response to 'Coming Up Roses'

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  1. Hmmm. I think some people need not think, at least. Sometimes in my youth I was dragged into very loud music venues, and found out that “can’t hear yourself think” isn’t just a metaphor. The noise really did drown out the little voice in the brain. I concluded that (a) that was the point, and (b) I wasn’t going back. But obviously many people do.

    Thinking is, obviously, different from thinking well–and from making sense.

    I’ll stand by my cheap ways onto the best seller list, which is not to automatically put down what arrives there. (Tolkien spent 15 years writing LOTR, and nearer 40 if you include education, research and backstory. And then it took him another 10 years to be an overnight success.) Obviously many things make their way onto best-seller lists I’ll never read, but I thought I’d summed up Roberts, Krentz, Clancy and Weber reasonably honestly. In mystery, I was actually thinking more of MURDER WHE WROTE, DIAGNOSIS MURDER and the classic PERRY MASONS. They might be cunning mysteries, but you’d never finish one wishing someone else had been guilty, or wishing they’d covered the whole thing up.

    But true crime isn’t fictional crime. Generally, fictional homicide is less depressing, and I would say more ethically nuanced. More your field than mine, of course. My impression was that for every victim who pushed someone to the wall, there were several who overinsured themselves. A fair number of men die each year because they believed some woman who said they loved them, and those men are vastly outnumbered by the women who died because they went alone in the dark with the wrong man.

    As for the exemplary person with the criminal past, my first take is that part of being an exemplary person is to take responsibility for your misdeeds. “Sorry” without accompanying actions, just isn’t very convincing.

    And if I start on politics, we’ll be days getting to anything serious.

    Glad you’re back.


    11 Jan 12 at 4:59 pm

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