Gerrie Ferris Finger, author of The End Game is my guest blogger today. I've never met Gerrie, but I have a great deal of admiration for her. On May 5, I reviewed The End Game, and I had to question why it won a competition for Best First Traditional Mystery Novel. But, Gerrie does a wonderful job rebutting my review. I hope you take the time to read her argument.
Guest Blog by Gerrie Ferris Finger
In the fall of 2008, I entered The End Game in the St. Martin's/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. In 2009, I got "the call" from Ruth Cavin that I had won the contest. In April of this year, the novel was published, and I got to appear on a panel at the Malice Domestic Convention in Crystal City, Virginia.
The panel, "Ripped from the Headlines", discussed mystery novels that took all or part of their genesis from real events. The End Game was not about a real event, but rather a series of happenings that began to occur in the United States. That being, girls and women abducted and brought into the U. S. for the purpose of physical labor and/or sexual slavery in private homes and places like massage parlors.
The End Game has gotten many reviews, all favorable so far. But a certain wonderment seems to have entered the minds of some reviewers, including the delightful and insightful Lesa Holstine, proprietor of this blog.
The wonder of it is: Is The End Game a traditional mystery novel?
Perhaps the subject of child abduction is not associated with traditional mysteries in the Agatha Christie vein, although Christie certainly wrote about the evilest of deeds man can do against his fellows. So did Dorothy L. Sayers and Ruth Rendell. P. D. James addressed sobering subjects, as did Elizabeth George. Traditionalists, all. But consider Christie's child murderer who wrote in her diary: "Today, I killed grandfather."
So what is a traditional mystery? I suppose for every reader there is a different notion. For me, traditional mysteries are who-dunnits from beginning to denouement. Traditional mysteries are divided into sub-genres. We'll skip the Chick-Lit and Vampire mysteries and consider the Cozy.
The cozy is a traditional mystery – a who-dunnit – done with a lighter touch than found in novels by Elizabeth George or Ngaio Marsh. Today's cozy hero or heroine often owns a shop or is engaged in a vivacious profession (as opposed to a private investigator). Their inquisitiveness gets them involved in the murder of a rogue who deserves his end. The trio or quartet of suspects have every reason to despise the rogue. It becomes great fun to unmask the bad guy or gal. Even peacocks and cats get involved. This sub-genre is spun from the likes of Agatha Christie and Patricia Wentworth (both of whom I adore). Martha Grimes epitomizes the cozy.
These greats of mystery inspired me as did John D. MacDonald and Rex Stout. I've read the Nero Wolfe canon at least three times. Patricia Highsmith could make my skin crawl. And Raymond Chandler's losers and dreamers could make you wonder about mankind.
It's safe to say when St. Martin's first thought up the competition many years ago, their idea of a traditional mystery was closer to Christie than Chandler. St. Martin's contest rules state the manuscript must: contain no explicit sex; contain no excessive gore or gratuitous violence; the hero or heroine doesn't get beat up to any great extent; and novels classified as "hard-boiled" are not appropriate.
When Lesa reviewed The End Game, she listed its violent aspects: two foster parents burned to death, two dogs killed, victims with slit throats, and the threat that two children would be sold into prostitution. She wrote: "Maybe Malice Domestic doesn't consider that 'gratuitous violence' since it did fit in the plot. However, I thought The End Game verged on hard-boiled, rather than traditional. Evidently, that's just my opinion."
On the subject of sex, one of her readers commented that the sex put him off.
With such facets in my novel, you might ask, what possessed you to enter it into St. Martin's contest?
Well, The End Game has no explicit sex. The suggestion is there, but no depiction – no stroking of body parts or ardent kissing. The deadly violence, with the exception of the final battle, is off page. The heroine, Moriah Dru, gets scraped up but not to any great extent. The dogs are dead to begin with, one had been for several years. To counter balance, there are two search and rescue hero dogs that have warmed the hearts of a few reviewers. The bad guys deserved their slit throats, but readers don't see it happen. The arson fire that killed the Barnes had been put out by page one. (In traditional mysteries, murder happens, even to wonderful people.) The little girls had been abducted before the heroine appears, and, of course, there is no depiction of child abuse. What lingers in readers' minds is the horror that awaits the girls if their abductors get away with them.
I would not have been surprised if The End Game had been deemed outside the bounds set by St. Martin's. But, I thought the fact that it was a mystery to the end, a true who-dunnit, made it traditional. What else could it be? It's not a literary novel, or a romance, or a romantic suspense. It's not an historical mystery, nor is it a thriller, although it has thriller aspects. It's neither truly hard-boiled nor noir, because the protagonist is an upbeat character and the ending is satisfying. I have to admit though, I don't mind my style being called as edgy as Raymond Chandler's.
One last thing to be said for traditional. The End Game has a locked room murder, wherein poor old Miss Goddard is done in. Snakes and apes may be excused.
Thank you, Gerrie. Your blog certainly gives me something to think about.
Gerrie Ferris Finger's website is www.GerrieFerrisFinger.com
The End Game by Gerrie Ferris Finger. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2010. ISBN 9780312611552 (hardcover), 310p.