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Last week when I visited three grandbabies, the three year old dumped out her puzzle box so we could do a puzzle together.  I was helping her find the pieces with a straight edge when her mother came in and watched us for a while.  Then her mom ratted her out by saying that there was more than one puzzle in the box and you could tell by looking at a symbol on the back.  The little one knew this and was having a joke on me.  I am still smiling.

When I read mysteries or other books where mysterious things are happening, I expect there will be clues to help me.  Of course there will be red herrings to make me believe it could have been the secretary instead of the butler.  I understand that.  But the clues should make sense at the end of the story.  I recently read a mystery with the obligatory witness who tries to tell the detective what she saw and is put off until too late.  I could see that poor lady’s murder coming fifty pages before it happened.  

But what really annoyed me was that the clue she had was not one that fit into the story to help the reader.  There was no clue at all.  The solution to the mystery was not one that the reader could have imagined let alone the investigator.  He said if only he had thought to start with the third lady who was attacked rather than with the first two victims, he could have solved it, but there was no way he could have done that let alone the reader.  I know that Agatha Christie did this in a story once, but she had clues…always.  When you finished reading her story, it made sense.  

The only clue that was offered was a weak thought in the lady’s mind that she should have taken time to check on her sick boss.  That was it.  Nothing more. It didn’t mean anything really.  Even for a first book in a series that was disappointing.  

Sometimes there are too many clues as with my grandbaby’s puzzle box.  Sometimes we are told too much and nothing is left for us to figure out.  

A good reader learns to see what is being held up as an important clue and knows to pay attention to it.  In Finity’s End by Cherryh, the hisa stick that Fletcher was given as a gift was important and I knew to pay attention.  That was well done.  When the end of the story tied everything together, I could see how it all fit.  It fit so perfectly that I was in awe.

In Sanderson’s Words of Radiance the mystery that was beginning in the first book, Way of Kings, is being rehashed.  While we were given lots of clues in the first book which kept the suspense going, in this story it is almost cut and dried in the first pages.  In a way, that is good because it helps me get back into the world he drew in the first book, and yet I have been puzzling myself about it as I read.  Why is he being so blunt this time?  Does he think I missed the clues last time and need help?  Or is it just not important enough in this book to be a mystery any longer?  

Does an author lose faith in his readers sometimes when he has written an intricate story with a lot going on?

I also felt that Hamilton cheated just a bit at the end of Great North Road.  It was such a great book that I didn’t care very much and yet it did make me a little upset that he could just do what he did without enough clues to make it fair.  Believe me, I was watching very carefully for the clues all along.  

Clues are important to engage the reader in solving the puzzle.  We like to figure out what is happening as the story unrolls.  We like to participate.  We worry about the characters, and we want the investigator to succeed.  We want the evil characters to be caught.  But the story is hollow if the clues are not given or are from a different puzzle entirely.  

What annoys you when you are reading or finish a book?

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Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Wed Jul 09, 2014 at 05:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter.

Poll

Which stock character do you enjoy most in a mystery?

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| 29 votes | Vote | Results

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