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Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Casual Critic — Micheal Robotham's Suspect

I read Micheal Robotham's Suspect because, as a wannabee novelist, I find it interesting to read the first novel an author publishes. I also thought reviewing it after Hemingway would be a unique contrast. However, reading it left me with something else—a curiousity about what exactly readers want from a novel.

Robotham's debut is dubbed as a psychological, mystery thriller. Joe O'Loughlin, a psychologist recently diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, stumbles—no pun intended—into a murder investigation. He not only quickly realizes he has a past with the murder victim, O'Loughlin begins to suspect a current patient of his as the murderer. The police, instead, begin focusing on O'Loughlin.

Without giving anything away, I began wondering why Robotham's story was published while so many others are not. I'm not ripping the story. There's a few twists that kept me reading, and they were actually better than the twists some novels offer merely to make the movie rights more appealing. But, ultimately, there wasn't anything in the resolution that readers couldn't have guessed 150 pages into the book-except for a twist that almost comes out of nowhere. More to the point, and the reason I began wondering what readers want from a novel, two major elements of the novel just seem to go away at the end.

For example, the main character is diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, which seemed like a throw-in detail to add suspense at times. He is also guilty of an infidelity, a fact that often drives the story forward. Yet, these two potentially life-altering events are rather easily dispensed with once the action of the novel is resolved. There's no basic change in the character of O'Loughlin.

The whole story is told from O'Loughlin's point of view, which robs some of the novel's suspense since we never have a real chance to doubt him. We even get his side of the infidelity, so he never really looks like a jerk. So, it seemed like character development was all that was left, but we never get that.

The conclusion of many popular novels can be summed up as "everything turns out ok." It seems to be just a bunch of extraordinary incidents, often created by misunderstandings or bad timing, that ultimately get smoothed over and allow the characters we like to return to life as they knew it.

So, are we reading just for the fun of the twists and turns, or for something more that's not always there? I tend to lean toward the latter, therefore, suggest reading Suspect while looking for something better.

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