By Simon Miller

A thriller based on a true story of courage, complicity and murder

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Hats off to Val McDermid

Hats Off to Val McDermid

            Her Guardian review of Paula Hawkins’ new thriller pulls off an unusual feat - - a critical analysis of the book without summarizing the plot.  Even better, she makes the point that successful thrillers are rare because the trick of withholding and releasing information is so tough to get right.  The device of the unreliable narrator (Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, and Before I Go to Sleep) can only be used once in a while and spreading the story across multiple points-of-view (Into the Water has 11) can leave the reader confused.  It can also damage the book’s style and credibility.  Information in the successful thriller is released without showing the clockwork and the scenes fly past without jarring the reader’s consciousness.  

            Val McDermid gives us a good example of this.  People don’t say “seeing the moon behind clouds reminds me of the night when that terrible thing happened that has haunted my life ever since,” - - it’s clumsy and suspiciously contrived and we know we’d just say, “I remember the night Johnny died.”  It’s not clear if this example is taken directly from Into the Water but Val McDermid’s point is nonetheless well made.  It explains how thrillers work and where Into the Water falls short for her - - leaving us to make up our own minds.


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