Meriel, Lynne’s daughter here – filling in while my mum takes a well-deserved break in the US.
I recently finally got round to reading a certain widely hyped novel - one that most crime fans I know read years ago. I shan’t name it, for reasons that will hopefully become obvious, but despite a slightly slow start to the book, a combination of interesting characters and an intriguing plot soon had me hooked – the sort of hooked where you look at the clock, realize you should have put the book down and gone to sleep an hour ago, and then carry on reading anyway.
Then, out of nowhere, the author suddenly hit me with a surprise serial killer. There was absolutely nothing in the book jacket blurb (or for that matter, in what I'd heard other people say about the book) to indicate that the work was going to take this sort of turn. There was an obvious explanation for this: as the revelation that a serial killer has been at work comes over halfway through the novel and is a complete surprise to the central characters, it would have been hard to flag this up in a way that wouldn’t have constituted a major spoiler.
On the other hand, I couldn’t help feeling cheated. Serial killer yarns are something I generally avoid, tending as they do to centre around two things I dislike: extreme violence, and a motive which boils down to ‘the killer is a psychopath’. (I dislike the latter mostly because it spoils what is for me a big part of the appeal of crime fiction: trying to figure out whodunit and why. Psychopaths don’t often have motives that make sense to other people.) For over two hundred pages, I thought I was reading the kind of book I like, and then abruptly found I wasn’t. Especially given how gripping I'd found the earlier parts of the investigation, this was a real disappointment (not to mention the fact that the rather gruesome descriptions of the killer's handiwork made me feel slightly ill). The serial killer storyline wasn’t the only plot strand, and I did keep reading, but I don’t think I’ll be reaching for another of the author’s works any time soon.
I’m still not sure what I think the publisher should have done in this case: giving the game away on the jacket would have removed a large proportion of the mystery and suspense – and most of us consider that to be an essential element of a crime novel. But I still feel as though I was lured in under false pretences.
What do you think? Is it important to you to know whether something is the sort of book you’re likely to enjoy before you start reading, or is it worth running the risk of the occasional unpleasant surprise to preserve the good ones?