A BANDERSNATCH MISHMASH
by Steve Steinbock
Has it been a week already? It’s late evening, and I’ve just set myself down to read today’s Criminal Brief column, and I see that it’s Thursday. I haven’t written my Bandersnatch for tomorrow.
What a week it’s been! I’ve been reading like mad and writing even madder (more mad?). That short story that I told everyone I was working on? Well, I finished it a few weeks ago, and gave it time to rest before doing the final edits.
The trouble with final edits, is that one never knows when enough is enough. So on Tuesday I printed it out and bundled it up with a cover letter, and mailed it to my favorite magazine editor. Next step: while awaiting a rejection letter (or perhaps a contract), I’m not going to let moss gather beneath my keyboard. Time to start in on the next story.
Stories with Pictures
This week I finished reading an amazing novel that combined graphic images with text very effectively. No, I don’t mean comic books. (Yes, I’ve been known to read those, too). The book is The Murder Notebook by Jonathan Santlofer. The protagonist is a forensic sketch artist and reconstructionist. But unlike most forensic artists, Nate Rodriguez has worked as a cop and is still a full member of the NYPD. During the course of the book, Santlofer introduces facial recognition sketches, samples of doodling done by suspects, and scenes that Rodriguez observes during the course of his investigations. Most interesting, though, is the facial reconstruction that he does using the skull of a John Doe, applying measurements, plastic eyeballs, and clay textures so that the reader gets to see the process unfold.
Jack Finney used old photographs and newspaper art in some of his novels. Umberto Eco included a lot of images in his recent The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. But I’m not familiar with any novelist integrating artwork as affectively as Santlofer has.
The plot of The Murder Notebook involves a series of seemingly random murders followed by the suicides of the perpetrators. The plot is clever, but it’s Santlofer’s characters and the suspenseful pacing that drive this novel. Without giving too much away, the story may involve Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Gulf War Syndrome, and human experimentation. That leads to my only complaint about the book: that there were moments when I felt that the author was writing from a soapbox. But the writing – and the pictures – were so good that despite the soapbox, The Murder Notebook is one of the best books I’ve read this year.
My Esteemed Colleagues
The past couple weeks have given me a chance to marvel at the Criminal Brief columns of my colleagues. John’s column about the elements of fiction – the things we get from various authors – was fun. Melodie’s essay on Maugham and Ashenden was wonderful. Jim’s incredible series on plotting. I could go on but I won’t.
Last week I dwelled on R. Austin Freeman and I just brushed the surface discussing his 1924 article, “The Art of the Detective Story.” I’d hoped this week to go into more of that, but I’m afraid that will have to wait another week.