Sunday, February 11, 2007

Take Me Away, Inspector Banks

by Brenda Roger

I read to escape. For years, I was convinced that I had to read scholarly books about art and nothing else. Then, I got a job that I hated. Listening to books on tape on the way to and from work as well as my lunch hour, took me to far away places. It made sitting in the moldy basement (my office) with a crazy person (my boss) more bearable.

Then, I start my own business and just felt too busy to read as much as I would like, however, one summer we moved into a one bedroom apartment (from a 100 year old house that I loved dearly) to wait for our house to be built, and everything changed. Honestly, that apartment would fit in one half of the first floor of most houses. My English Springer spaniel and I were stuck there all day while I sewed handbags in the corner of the living room. There were appointments to keep and decisions to make where the house was concerned. Most of that responsibility fell to me. It was a stressful time.

My mother took pity on me. She offered a stack of Patricia Cornwell novels as a distraction. I spent part of that summer fighting crime with Dr. Scarpetta. The ending of one of the novels actually made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was exhilarating.

Zoom ahead four years. I just finished the latest Scarpetta novel, Predator. This won’t give anything away to those who haven’t read it, so you can read on safely. There are four main characters that are in almost every book, and I have to tell you, I don’t like these people anymore! It was hard to stick with the story because the characters have become so unlikable and unsympathetic. Also, the subplots and conflicts in their relationships are never resolved. I feel like I read half of her first draft. Honestly, Cornwell must not like these people anymore either. It might be time to retire the series before I start buying the books and shredding them instead of reading them.

This has me concerned. I am very invested in and addicted to Peter Robinson’s Inspector Alan Banks series. Quite honestly, I have a serious crush on Inspector Banks. When I say this, people usually like to remind me that I am married and he lives in England. Oh, and HE’S MADE UP people!!! The first two reasons that we can’t be together are small potatoes compared to the not being real part.

Anyway, my concern is, that Mr. Robinson will begin to treat dear Inspector Banks the way that Cornwell has treated Dr. Scarpetta. I don’t think I can stand to lose Banks. After all, we’re in love!

At what point is a series over? Did Patricia Cornwell learn nothing from Seinfeld? Does the author of a series have a responsibility to be true to a character?


Anonymous said...

I used to be a Cornwell fan, too. I quit reading after the one that had the guy with the hair all over him. I almost quit after she killed off Benton. I'm glad I stopped reading before she brought him back from the dead. And I really hate that she changed from writing in past tense to present tense. I will not read books in present tense--I hate it! It's too gimmicky for me. It's like the author is saying, "Ooh, look what I can do!"

I'm not sure if the problem is that she doesn't like these characters anymore or not. If she did, she could certainly write something else. BTW, ask me about her visits to Quantico sometime.

Other writers can carry a series for just as long (or longer) with no problem. Look at Sue Grafton. Her books only get stronger.

Anonymous said...

Do authors have a "responsibility?" Hmm....
I have always felt that my responsibility was to say what my characters wanted me to say. They're in control, not me. And yet, some kernal of all my characters Do I feel "responsible" for my reader's reaction to what the characters do? A little. (But I pay closer attention to the marketplace than most writers.) I think Cornwell feels her responsiblity is to tell a compelling story. If that means present tense (which I enjoy, frankly, because of its immediacty and that it's uncluttered writing) or allowing characters to become distasteful....well, that's her decision. Our decision is whether or not to buy her next book.

Anonymous said...

Ooo, Joyce, her visits to Quantico, I want to hear about that!

Anonymous said...

Interesting viewpoint, Nancy. At this point, buying the books is like walking past someone in a really bad outfit, I can't help but look.

Anonymous said...

Brenda, I want the name of that Cornwell book that spooked you so much. I always love a scary story!

I also read to escape. I write to escape, too, but that's a different topic. I can't say I've ever been disappointed enough by a series to stop reading it, but there have been a few books by my favorite authors I felt were rushed or not of the same quality as previous books. As a writer, though, I can understand how difficult it is to write a winner every time.

Joyce, I also don't particularly like reading novels written in second person. I admire any writer who can pull it off, but for me, it takes me out of the fictional dream and reads too much like a screenplay.