Sunday, August 03, 2014

Mystery Writing Lesson: 9K Words into Raven Black

Reflections on Daddy's Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark (New York: Pocket Books, 2014) and Raven Black by Ann Cleeves (New York, Thomas Dunne books, 2006).

Just 30 pages, 9000 words into Raven Black, I feel like I've been somewhere I've not been before, and I've already been drawn into the emotional lives and memories of a handful of characters.  I hope I'm not giving away too much when I report how delighted I was to realize that chapter two comes at the same event as chapter one from a different perspective.  We feel some sympathy for the lonely old man in the first chapter before we see him through the girls' eyes as both pathetic and repulsive. 

Speaking to one of the girls, he recognizes her as daughter of a schoolteacher in town.  In just these thirty pages, we get different perspectives on that schoolteacher - too strict?  wise? sympathetic?  in need of a makeover?  -- and we also get to see the town itself as picturesque enough to draw tourists, not picturesque enough to satisfy them, small enough for our characters to know each other by reputation, but lately filling with strangers. 

We do have a body, and the details, gruesome as they are, have been foreshadowed already in some ruminations on the ravens that flock on this island in the Shetlands. 

So I'm not only drawn along in the story, but I feel the lines of its world drawn tightly around my imagination.  

I compare this to the rapid-fire exposition in Daddy's Gone A Hunting.  I completed reading it yesterday, having turned page after page to see what happened next, second-guessing characters' secrets.  Still, this reader skipped along the surfaces of the story, noting plot points and feeling a bit overwhelmed by shifts of perspective every couple of pages. I was also amused and a bit irritated at how specific numerals cropped up as we were told the ages of characters, and exactly how many years ago this or that event happened. 

Clark is a descendant of Dickens, by way of soap opera.  Like Dickens, she keeps things fresh by keeping scenes brief, shifting sites frequently;  like producers of a soap opera, she also makes sure that everyone but a couple of outliers is well-built, well-groomed, on the youngish side, and she keeps introducing fresh faces well into the second half of the story.  She hit emotions hard a couple of times, giving us the simple detail that the parent turns off the porch light for the first time in years -- now that she knows her daughter will never be coming home. 

Cleeves, so far at least, is pulling me deeper into her created world.   I find in comparison how much I missed the texture of Raven Black when I was turning pages in Daddy's Gone A Hunting. 

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