When I wrote SACRED COWS, I decided that there would be two murders in it. The first girl killed, Melissa, is dead on the first page of the book. The reader never meets her while alive, only learns about her after she's dead. The second girl killed, Allison, is a friend of Melissa's, and Annie Seymour interviews her for the newspaper about her friend. Allison is killed later, in a very different way than Melissa.
I did not want to solve Allison's murder.
The heart of the story would be finding Melissa's killer. Allison's death seems to be connected, because they are friends and the two girls are escorts. But when I wrote the book, I had decided that Allison's death was random, that the police would not find out who killed her at all. It would be one of those cold cases, the ones that are never solved.
We know that crimes are not always solved. We know that there isn't always a reason for a crime, but sometimes it's just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not every killer is caught. I wanted to show the reader both a crime that's solved, a killer brought to justice, and a crime that remains a mystery.
My editor didn't like that. Mysteries have to have all the i's dotted and the t's crossed, I was told. I had to solve Allison's murder just as I had solved Melissa's. The book would seem unfinished if I didn't. So, because I was so happy to actually have finally sold the book and it would be published, went along with it. I wrapped up the mystery of Allison's death just as nicely as I did Melissa's. I don't think the book suffered for it; I made the reason for the crime plausible, the killer plausible.
But I still wish I could've left it open.
Just as I wish Chevy Stevens had left her crime random in her splashy debut STILL MISSING. I read this remarkable book yesterday. The plot, about a woman Realtor who is abducted at an open house and held captive for a year by a man she called The Freak, sped along at a breakneck pace. It was the story of a woman who survived physically, but emotionally she is still facing the demons of what happened. I was riveted.
Until the last part of the book. When it seemed that perhaps Ms. Stevens' editor said the same thing to her as mine did to me: Give us a reason for the abduction. Someone has to be to blame. Solve the crime.
So she did. And I felt it was wrong. I didn't believe any of it. Because it stretched credulity. The suspense was gone, and what was left was merely "You've got to be kidding me." She should've left it alone. The reader would not have minded. In fact, many of the book's reviews indicate that.
Do you think a mystery writer has an obligation to always solve the crime?