Thursday, February 10, 2011
That's the basic plot of Memorial Day, one of thrillerist Vince Flynn's popular Mitch Rapp series. Last year, I read the first five books in the ten-book (and counting) series when I was traveling and at other times I wanted to read without being consciously aware that I was reading. They're not bad, I suppose — I mean, they deliver what they promise: they're mindless and silly, but they're better than squinting furiously at the plane's 10" screen to catch the latest Zac Efron vehicle.
But my No. 1 problem with most of the Rapp books is also my No. 1 problem with The Girl Who Played With Fire so far (I'm about halfway through). The conflict is false, and thus so is the drama. Here's what I mean: Because I already knew that Vince Flynn had written five more Mitch Rapp novels after Memorial Day, I was at no time concerned that the terrorists were actually going to succeed in blowing up Washington, D.C. Similarly, because I know there's another Millennium trilogy novel after The Girl Who Played With Fire, I can be reasonably confident that Lisbeth Salander isn't actually guilty of the murders she's accused of— or if she is, Larsson's got some (probably far-fetched) trick up his sleeve to ensure that she's not caught, convicted, or killed. (Not spoiling anything there — even though it doesn't happen until about halfway through the novel, the murders that hinge the plot are revealed on the back cover blurb! Seriously? Seems to me like a blurb-writing fail, there.)
Please understand an important distinction. My issue here is not that the plot is preposterous or not believable, or that I'm talking about a mystery that's too easy to solve from clues in the text. Sure, Lisbeth could be guilty of the murders and, sure, God forbid, a terrorist could get a hold of a bomb and blow up a city. My issue is that we know the plot is preposterous in the context of what we know from external circumstances, i.e. more novels in a series. I suppose it could be argued that when these novels were first published, readers may not have known there would be future novels with the same characters, so the drama is real. And maybe that's true for some readers, and as a result, they read these books on the edge of their friggin' seats. But I suspect most readers were aware that these weren't isolated books. At least I'd hope so.
But you know what medium does this idea of "false drama" in such a way as to make the fact that you already know what's going to happen irrelevant? Movies. Think Titanic. The King's Speech. Apollo 13. Those are three incredibly dramatic, incredibly fantastic movies, all with an already-known ending. Sure, the comparison to thriller novels isn't not totally accurate, but it's in the same ballpark. Just thought I'd throw that out there...
So what do you think? Have you run across novels in which you lost interest because of this false drama? Why was the drama false?
Posted by Greg Zimmerman at 12:23 PM