As it happens, while I wait for the upshot, I’ve been reading Facebook and “Mystery We Write” pal Pat Gligor’s Mixed Messages. And I’m beginning to appreciate a less driven approach.
If memory serves, here is the progression of, approximately, the first quarter of the story. In the background, every now and then, there are radio bulletins intimating that somewhere not far from a neighborhood in Cincinnati, a serial killer is targeting women. In the foreground, a sensitive housewife is concerned about her marriage and the little trials and tribulations of her two young children. Her husband has become ill-tempered, taken to drink, and flies off the handle when the subject of finances and/or their little boy’s possible ADD is brought up. In turn, the wife wishes she had someone to confide in and is considering taking a part time secretarial job at the church to help make ends meet. Chapters are devoted to the husband’s woes and longings, and the wife’s former confidant-- a retired police officer who mulls over his own drinking problem, a stint as a prisoner of war, other past and present circumstances, and catches the latest bulletin about the Westwood Strangler. There are also chapters devoted to other people who touch on the housewife’s life, and a later scene from her priest’s point of view as he lectures her about the sanctity of marriage, followed by his own reminiscing over an early altercation with a high school girl, a retreat to seminary which, in effect, leaves his shy sister susceptible to the wrong crowd and death at the hands of a drunk driver by the name of Malone.
In short, as a setup, a sense of unease permeates, along with an alcoholic thread, a kind wife who wishes to make things whole again, touchy encounters within the wife’s immediate circle, and intimations of something dicey out on the periphery.
At the same time, I recall a conversation I had with Laura Lippman about one of her noted crime novels. This particular tale focused on the effect of a father’s desertion on the lives of family members and was sprinkled with a cold case and a little detection. This progression, she told me, was what she was interested in and not the same old, same old crime format.
And so, aside from the fact that some crime writers have a more feminine perspective, perhaps these lady publishing pros I’ve been dealing with are telling me something rather simple. Perhaps they’re saying if you’re going to use the standard hero or heroine’s impossible journey, make sure it’s fresh and compelling.