Thursday, February 04, 2010

Let's Twist Again

GIVEAWAY! The choice of any one of Hank’s Charlie McNally series—to five lucky commenters! And one grand prize winner get the first three books--plus a terrific limited edition black canvas tote bag.

by Guest Blogger Hank Phillippi Ryan

Here’s the scene you’ve got to imagine. Me, and my dear husband, side by side on the couch. (He looks a bit like Donald Sutherland, if that helps. Not scary-spooky Donald Sutherland, but nice Donald.) We have wine. Some little snacks. And a movie.

Jonathan clicks the remote to ‘play’. The mystery thriller—you pick the movie--whirrs into life. Opening credits, big opening scene, setting the stage and introducing the characters. About five minutes in, a woman enters the plot.

“Dead,” I say.

Jonathan pushes pause. “What?”

“Nothing, nothing,” I say, taking the remote and pushing play. “I’m just saying, she’s toast.”

Four minutes later: KABLAM. Jonathan takes a sip of wine. “Anyone could have predicted that,” he says. “Plus, you guessed.”

I shrug.

Soon after, someone who is someone’s friend/lover/teacher/husband/neighborhood cop arrives into our plot. “I like him for it,” I say. “Guilty Guilty Guilty.”

Jonathan, who I might add is a criminal defense attorney and more used to real-life murder than any of us, is not happy. Pauses the video again. “Can’t you just watch the movie? Can’t you just wait and see what happens?”

I push play. Of course, the answer is no. For the rest of the movie, I—mostly—keep my suspicions and guessing to myself. Unless I just can’t stand it.

“I’m…,” the almost-heroine says.

“Pregnant!” I yell.

“Pregnant,” she says.

“Ha!” I say, raising a victory fist. “The twist.”

Jonathan’s face is some combination of annoyed, impressed and affectionate. He’s married an investigative reporter turned mystery writer, and we can’t stand not to predict what’s going to happen. Or think of a way that it could happen better. Or happen more interestingly.

It may have started with Perry Mason. When I was a little girl, with a lawyer for a step-father, when Perry was on, there were rules. Like: total and absolute silence. My little sister and I were not allowed to ask things like—who’s that guy? What’s embezzlement? Why is she crying? If we wanted to watch Perry on our 17 inch Philco (or whatever it was) we had to be very, very quiet.

Even my dad was quiet. But my 12-year-old brain began to figure things out. Like—the pattern. Of course, you had a head start with Perry. His client, except for that one famous time (what was the name of the case he lost? Anyone?) was not guilty. And the most obvious second choice didn’t do it either. The twist was--it was always the third person, kind of the guy who was not in the forefront until about two-thirds of the way in. And soon, I could always guess. And I was always right. Of course, I was never allowed to say it out loud.

((“Foreshadowing!” I say, all grown up now and on my own couch. “See the river in the background? Someone’s going to drown.”))

Figuring out Nancy Drew was a snap, even though I loved her. Sherlock Holmes? Yeah, even Arthur Conan Doyle had a pattern. I realized that after devouring every Holmes story I could find. It was kind of—a rhythm you could tap in to and figure out the end. Like Law and Order, right? They’re fun to watch. But get the rhythm, and you get the bad guy. (Tum TUM)

And when I read now, I still can’t just let go and let the author take me away. I do try. Try not to think ahead, nail the foreshadowing, find the clues, figure out whodunit before the author tells me. I always, always fail. (But that’s also why I don’t read mysteries while I’m writing. I can’t. I only want my story in my head. I don’t want to be trying to solve someone else’s puzzle.)

Of course, I don’t always guess the bad guy. And it doesn’t really matter. If I do, that’s okay. If the author has written a careful, fair and clever book, I give them props for that.

When I don’t, though, that’s just great. I go back through; looking for the clues I missed, seeing if it was fair. And when it is, when I’m fooled and deceived and misled, that’s the best.

But know what I’m wondering now? Is it fair to promise a “twist ending”? If I’m told there’s going to be a twist, I read the whole book differently. Looking for the twist. Which is somewhat distracting. Isn’t it twistier not to say so? All my promo material for Prime Time promises a twist ending. Which it does have. And people say they never guessed it. But I wonder—should I have left it a surprise? Or does promising a twist make it more of a challenge?

And DRIVE TIME…well, at first. I had a big twist ending. Then I took it out. Then I put it back. Then I…well, you’ll just have to read it and see.

What do you think? Do you try to solve the puzzle as you read or watch? Or can you just—relax and get carried away? And if there’s a twist, do you want to know?

Suzanne Brockmann says: “I love this series!” Sue Grafton says: "This is first-class entertainment." And Library Journal just gave DRIVE TIME a starred review, saying in part “Placing Ryan in the same league as Lisa Scottoline…her latest book catapults the reader into the fast lane and doesn’t relent until the story careens to a stop. New readers will speed to get her earlier books, and diehard fans will hope for another installment.”

Award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate. Her work has resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in restitution. Along with her 26 EMMYs, Hank’s won dozens of other journalism honors. She's been a radio reporter, a legislative aide in the United States Senate and an editorial assistant at Rolling Stone Magazine working with Hunter S. Thompson.

Her first mystery, the best-selling PRIME TIME, won the Agatha for Best First Novel. It was also was a double RITA nominee for Best First Book and Best Romantic Suspense Novel, a DAPHNE nominee, a TOP PICK and an RT Reviewers' Choice Award Winner. FACE TIME (August 2009) and AIR TIME (Sept. 2009) are IMBA bestsellers. DRIVE TIME came February 1 from MIRA Books, to a starred review from Library Journal. Hank is on the national board of Mystery Writers of America, and the New England Board of Sisters in Crime.

Her website is


Annette said...

Hi, Hank! Good to see you here!

In my house, my husband is usually the one to solve the mystery first when we're watching TV or a movie. Makes me crazy. I always say he should be the mystery writer in the family.

I love a good twist. With some authors, you just know there's going to be one, whether it's advertised as such or not. So I don't think promoting the presence of a twist makes a difference as to how much I enjoy it.

Ramona said...

I like a good twist, surprising twist (The Sixth Sense, since we're talking movies), but not if it's painfully obvious from the start (The Village) or makes no sense whatsoever (The Happening.)

If a book promotes the twist, I read with that in mind, looking for the twist elements, and I think that spoils it a little. I read Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island with no clue, and whoa mama.

I suddenly feel like lisening to some Chubby Checker.

Working Stiffs said...

Yes, Hank, so very good to see you here! :)

I bug my husband all the time 'cause I do the same thing. I love being wrong while reading as long as I can figure out later how I messed up. As long as it's fair, it's fine

Wow! Your giveaways are FABULOUS. Thanks so much for your generosity!

Paula Matter

Jenna said...

Hiya, Hank! Thanks for visiting with the Stiffs!

Cool post. Yes, I try to figure it out, always. When I don't, I'm thrilled. If I do, but it was a good read, I don't mind. After all, I re-read books all the time, because I enjoy the writer's voice, and I know whodunnit then. Sometimes - gasp! - I even peek, just to make sure that the guy and girl end up together. Even when I know (because I cheated) who the murderer is, I still want to know how s/he did it and what the clues were.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Welcome Hank. I used to get carried away by a good thriller or suspense. Since I've been writing, I am a much more critical reader. Unfortunately, I find myself looking for plot devices, POV shifts, writing styles, to see if the writier has done their research, etc. It's hard for me to turn the left side of my brain off (or whatever makes me analyze things). It's like a disease.

Joyce Tremel said...

Welcome, Hank!

I always try to solve the puzzle or figure out what the twist is going to be. I love it when the author makes it hard to figure out.

TV programs make it way too easy to figure out. We were watching something last week (I can't remember what), but I even knew the cause of death before the coroner. I love saying "Ha! Told you!" to hubby.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Thanks, Annette! Oh, tht's a relief. I mean, if you say there's a teist, or you don't we;re always lokign for it, right?

Maybe that's the twist--not to say so!

Tahnks for inviting me today! Pub week is alwayss...tense. Fun. Lots of crossed fingers.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, Ramona, The Sixth Sense. I was SO surprised. And I just loved that. And then it required you, don;t you think, to go back and watch it again and see all the places you were fooled.

I almost remember the Village--I think what I do remember was thinking--oh, puh-leese.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

HeyPaula! Thank you for inviting
me! xo

I agree..I love to be wrong. That's sometimes more fun than being right.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

ANd Ramona, yes, I've been humming Chubby since yesterday. Sorry. They say if you starting thinking about Jingle Bell Rock, the earworm will go away.

That's what they say, at least.

Late for work! Back soon..

Dana King said...

I'd rather not know if there's twist, as I then spend too much time looking for it and not enjoying the rest of the book or movie.

As for trying to solve the mystery, not usually. I do try to anticipate what's going to happen by thinking along with the characters. If I'm right more than half the time, the book/movie's probably too predictable. If I'm wrong more than half the time, it might be cheating and not properly preparing things.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Wilfred--yeah, I thnk that is the weird secret of becoming a writer. It is so diffiuclt for me to lose myself in a book the way I used to.

I always want to edit--oh, redundant, re-used words, unintended rhyme, obvious know, all that.

The good news, though, when there's a book that's realy really special and well-written, it does shine.

Debbie Kaufman said...

I think that Sixth Sense is probably one of the only movies that has surprised me with the twist at the end.

I do the same thing while watching tv with my husband, but he's started to get into it and we're both vocalizing our guesses about who-dun-it, what secrets are floating out there, etc.

I try not to do this when I read, but it's almost impossible.

Grammy09 said...

Hi Hank! I love your work! My husband is the talker...I am the thinker, but I don't dwell on it too much. Can't stand to watch a movie with my husband very often though, because he makes me miss things with his constant questions.

I love a great twist and think I would rather not know because I do enjoy a suprise ending. I cannot stand to read something that is obvious.

cttiger said...

'Morning, Hank. Really enjoyed the post. Sounds like movie/TV night at our house when my brothers are home. Sibling rivalry at it's pinnacle. We pretty much always get it right, it's just a question of who gets it first -(usually the guy who didn't go out to the kitchen to fix snacks).
I love a good twist, but only if they play fair. Sticking in a twist just for the sake of leading the reader/viewer astray and not leaving any clues is just cheating.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

OH, thanks Grammy09! (I'm Grammy, too. I wanted to be Grumpy, but I figured eventually I wouldn't think it was that funny.)

Jennie! True Confessions. SOmetimes, I peek, too.. More to come on this.

Gina said...

I love Sixth Sense - I had to go back and see it again because I was sure Bruce Willis had spoken directly to the kid's mother. So well done! Another great twist movie is Wild Things, with Matt Dillon, Kevin Bacon, Denise Richards and Neve Campbell. Everytime you think, "Ah, ha! Now I know what's really going on!" it changes. Truly great film, lots of twists and turns.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, I've never seen Wild Things! Going to Netflix...

I've just seen all the typos in my posts..sorry..

ThatBrunette said...

It is not easy to get lost in a story. Part of it comes from experience in the genre. Some books/movies are a bit formulaic. I think that the difference is in the storytelling. I guessed my way through the first three books of the Twilight series because they followed the paranormal young adult pattern of plot.

If I am reading books in a series, I have to stick other authors in-between the books or the rhythm becomes too predictable. I love Ed McBain's 87th Precinct mysteries but, if I read more than 5 in a row, I get grumpy.

Oh, according to Wikipedia:
"The Case Of The Terrified Typist" (Episode 1-38):[3] This is one of the few cases that Perry Mason lost, or did he? After his defendant was found guilty at the trial, at the following combined sentencing hearing and motion for new trial Mason pulls a rabbit out of his hat that clears the name of his defendant, but he doesn't exactly get the defendant off the hook either.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

I enjoyed Wild Things on a much more elementry level.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, yes, I think that's right, the Terrified Typist!

Maybe it's on YouTube or something..everything else is!

Kathy Sweeney said...

My sister started a game with the show "Murder She Wrote" - as soon as the show started, we'd watch for the murderer. Then we'd jump up, point at the character and yell "MUDERER!" The first person to guess correctly won. And I have to tell you, it always happened in the first five minutes of the show.

Thank heaven no one else in my house is a big fan of "Lost" because I yell guesses about that show constantly.

Elaine Viets said...

Hi, Hank,
I'm the mystery solver in our family. Don knows every actor's pedigree and can recite them all.
And talk about twist -- DRIVE TIME is really timely.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Kathy, that's hilarious. I can completely picture it. And may have to start a new tradtion at our house.

MSW were pretty predictable--but always fun. It's like--it's the second most likely person. Sometimes, if the writers were really on, the third most.

But it must be difficult! It had to be someone who was in the story..and with only 48 minutes, or however long an hour TV show is, there's not much time to be subtle.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Ah, a visit from Elaine Viets, an ex-fellow St. Louisan.

Welcome Elaine

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hey Elaine!So great to see you here. Can't wait for the new book--is it Half Price Homicide? (hmm..I think so..)

And yes, it's really weird and kind of wonderfully serendipitous....
DRIVE TIME is all about automobile recalls--at least, that's one of the main plot elements. I'm rubbing my hands with glee over that, I must say.

So, very ripped from the headlines. Or--the headlines were ripped from IT! Anyway, it's a good thing.

And it's complicated enough to make up names for people--I had the fun of making up names for cars!!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Is there such a thing as an ex-fellow?

Patg said...

Gosh, Hank, I started wondering what I was doing sitting on Your couch with Your husband. Oh, we do the same thing. That's mystery writers for you!
I love twists, and I like them and if the book says it has one, IT BETTER HAVE A GOOD ONE!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yeah, PAtg. And Dana. And Laurie. I agree. And if the "twist" is some weird left-handed long lost brother from Australia, that's not a twist.

That's just twisted.

(Patg, so funny. That's how I always think of you. As "Patg."

nancy martin said...

I finally started writing the plot on a piece of paper in the first few minutes of any show, and the family opens it when the show's over. It was the polite thing to do.

I think Law and Order needs some new writers. Whoever the most famous guest actor is? That's the bad guy.

Harley said...

Oh, Hank, you are so smart. And I too was raised on Perry Mason. For years I thought that getting arrested for a murder one didn't commit happened to most people. I used to pray about it at night, that I'd have a good lawyer.

Here's my dirty little secret. I rarely care who did it (except in my own books, where I try to make it intelligent and surprising) -- I just love murder mysteries because . . . well, just because. They're so comforting.

MaryQ said...

I'm always trying to figure out who did it, whether it's a movie, book or TV. It's part of the fun.
I don't want to know if there's a twist, either. I'll keep looking for it.
I loved the Sixth Sense. I've watched it several times. I had no idea until the end that he was dead. It was perfect.

Norma said...

TV shows used to be easy to guess. I wasn't a 'yell-out-louder' though. Maybe I did mention who the killer was in a relatively quiet (superior) voice, but who's counting?

But, to tell you the truth, I'm not always good at guessing the killer in books, especially Agatha's. I've never figured her out!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

NAncy, as usual, you have made the classy choice. Although Kathy's idea of standing up and yelling is--tempting, I'm wondering if I might choose the more elegant writing-it-down and pulling it out later routine. Which, of course is easier to hide if you're wrong!

Do I hear that if you visit your website--there's a free look at the first chapter of your new book Our Lady Of Immaculate Deception? That's, I think...

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Harley, that is fascinating. I never thought about that. And yet, once a week at least, on Perry Mason, an innocent person was accused of murder, and narrowly escaped. I guess, on Law and Order, too. Tun TUM.

As the wife of a criminal defense attorney, I do know full well that it does happen. But not, happily, to everyone. If it happens to you (or any of you), give me (and Jonathan) a call.

But it won't.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

It's fun to figure it out, MaryQ and Norma. And it's also fun to try--and fail. That's one of the delights of mysteries, right?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Ah, thank you so much,Stiffs! You are wonderful...and I had a delightful time. Watch this space for winners of the books!

I will see you all soon...and think of you every time I shout out the name of the guilty one.

xoxo and with much gratitude..

Spav said...

I always try to solve the puzzle. I remember seeing this movie with John Cusack, I think it was called "Identity" in which all this people are alone in this motel and someone is killing them off. I figured out who the killer was at the beginning, and I wanted to tell the people around me, but my friends know me too well and told me to shut up. :D

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Spav, spoken like a true mystery fan!

Our team of accountants will pick winners soon!

Paula Matter said...

The lucky winners will be announced on Monday.

Stay tuned!

And, Hank, thanks again so much for being here!

Storm Safety Blog said...

Hello Hank! Can't wait to read the new book, but I am waiting on hubby to pick out something else to order from Amazon at the same time so we can get free shipping. ::sigh:: At least Tim doesn't mind if I spurt out, "He did it!" while we're watching L&O. If I don't say it, he will. I do love solving the mystery along with the detectives. It's one of the things I loved about the old Ellery Queen TV series and hated about L&O: Criminal Intent (which, in the early seasons, started out showing the murder so you knew whodunit from the start).

As for a twist, I don't care if I know there's a twist ending, as long as you can't see it coming. Hubby and I suspected the twist ending of Sixth Sense before we saw the movie and the minute Bruce Willis got shot, we knew we were right. It was mildly interesting to see how everything was set up to make it appear normal to the unsuspecting viewer. Otherwise it was just two hours we'll never get back.

Best twist ever: The original Planet of the Apes. It's an entertaining movie on many levels, and when you see it for the first time, you're just totally not expecting that curve ball.

Of course, I don't know if the movie was promoted as having an amazing twist ending. I saw it when I was probably 12 or 13 years old, on the afternoon movie, and I had no clue. So maybe it is best not to hype the twist too much. You can't help it if the book or movie is an unqualified success and everyone starts talking about the twist ending, but maybe in the beginning it should just be a surprise.