Thursday, May 26, 2016

Predictably preposterous

I like a good murder mystery as much as the next guy and in a pinch I'll even read a bad murder mystery, but reading four mediocre murder mysteries in the same week seems like gratuitous suffering. Nevertheless that's what I did to fill the long quiet hours between moments of drama while my mother lay dying: having exhausted my own reading materials, I picked some mysteries from my parents' shelves and plowed right through them.

They were okay. One was even better than okay: The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg features interesting characters, fresh plot points, and unusual settings, and while I did eventually solve the murder, it didn't destroy the suspense. I cannot say the same for the David Baldacci novels I read. They're all best-sellers so someone out there must enjoy them, but I found them predictable, poorly written, and, at times, preposterous.

In the Baldacci universe, the good guys all struggle with some deep inner turmoil but are blessed with superhuman crime-fighting skills plus the ability to dodge speeding bullets--or else maybe all the Baldacci villains are very bad shots, which makes you wonder why they chose a life of violence. I mean, if your chance of advancement up the Evil Henchman career path requires the ability to shoot a person standing right in front of you, wouldn't you spend a little time at the shooting range?

The henchmen do find their marks occasionally, but it's always pretty obvious which minor character is about to be sacrificed and which helpless, innocent young woman is about to be put into extreme danger to raise the stakes in the case. Will the good guys unravel the clues in time to save the beautiful princess from the Evil Mastermind?

Of course they will! That's what Baldacci detectives do, regardless of how bizarre the plot. The least believable moment in one of the novels--and they've all blurred together in my mind so don't ask me which one--occurs when (spoiler alert!) the Evil Mastermind, obsessed with seeking the kind of revenge that most of us grow out of by age six, uses a satellite to gain control of the President's limo and drive it off a bridge straight into the Potomac. How does Our Hero rescue the President of the United States from a sealed limousine resting under 30 feet of water? The answer involves a frantic cell-phone call, a hidden rifle, a pair of oxygen tanks, an epiphany borrowed from the movie Jaws, and a Good Guy with superhuman swimming power, but here's the question that never gets answered: How did the Good Guy get cell-phone reception 30 feet under the Potomac?

It doesn't matter, really. The plot requires cell-phone reception so that's what they get, just as the plot requires the two detectives to keep talking about whether they ought to sleep together without ever getting down to business. And in that way Baldacci novels resemble just about every television crime series of recent years: damaged detectives, superhuman abilities, unresolved sexual tensions, endangered innocents, and plots that just keep getting more and more ridiculous. 

Makes me want to drive right off a bridge. (Better take along a murder mystery in case it gets dull down there.)

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