Friday, January 23, 2009

Point of View

Finished Val McDermid's Beneath the Bleeding. I love her characters. I love her caginess. But I have a technical bone to pick. This is not a whodoneit, since we know from the get-go who did the murders, but rather a whydoneit. Even so, you can't write from the killer's point of view and not spill the beans; unless it's some kind of epistolary artifact, like a written confession, a letter, a diary, or a blog, lol. But if you're just walking around inside the guy, inhabiting his head, then you can't simply omit telling the reader the answer to the central mystery--in this case--his motive.

Point of view is a delicate and fragile thing. It establishes trust, a contract with the reader--and when used well it enhances willing suspension of disbelief. You can't abuse it.

On the other hand, the question of the poisoner's motive is left unanswered--and is masterfully handled in the white space. The footballer's body shows evidence of anal abuse. The young policeman, subdued by the poisoner with a Micky Finn of roofie-laden OJ has his pants undone. The poisoner, when caught, argues "I'm NOT a pouffe." McDermid doesn't have to spell it out. It's there--in the white space. Absolutely masterful. She doesn't have to be explicit. Tony Hill knows, though he doesn't articulate it. We know--even though it isn't articulated. Throughout the book Tony keeps trying to profile the poisoner and is non-plussed by the seeming lack of a sexual motive. And in the end, of course, there is one. Brilliant.

So technically, what's the difference? Val McDermid never writes from the poisoner's point of view.

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