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Kgebetli Moele

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The Art of Defusing

The Detective's SecretThere are times when an author completely loses the plot and focus of their tale, defusing the genre, and then we have a watered down novel. The fact that the novel is well received by readers, certified by the words: Number One Bestseller, aids the de-purification of the art

Lesley Thomson’s The Detective’s Secrets is such a novel. There is always a problem with starting a series in the middle as some vital information may have been disseminated or implied in the previous instalments. The author does not find necessary to divulge that information again or repeatedly as the readers who are following the series already know. This is not always a loss, as the book might necessitate one to read previous instalments even before finishing the one that they are reading – then the intention or unintentional act of leaving that information out becomes a success.

With this fact in mind, I ploughed through The Detective’s Secret carefully, but there was nothing that made me think of getting the previous instalments or even future instalments. I found an author with a readymade-to-consume market, hungry to take on whatever comes and mindless of the contents.

In The Detective’s Secrets the said detective is deceased and his daughter Stella is trying by all means to walk in his detective shoes with the help of Jack – her train driver friend – while her day job is Twenty First Century Designer housemaid on call.

The detective’s secret is the surfacing of a son, Dale Heffernan, that the wife of the detective had while they were still young. She had to give the child away. With the arrival of Dale the crime story becomes a family saga. The author flies over this family saga with nothing resolved and no payoffs to the main story.

The crime: a man jumped in front of a speeding train. Suicide. His brother doesn’t think that it was a suicide as he believes that his brother would not have committed suicide. The trained police wrote off the death as suicide. The brother then solicits the detective’s daughter to help prove that his brother was murdered. Stella is reluctant to take over the case. She is reluctant to do anything that is concerned with “walking the detective’s shoes”. She is even reluctant to open a letter addressed to the dead man whose supposed murdershe is investigating.

In the end, a cleaner and train driver solve a related 20-year-old cold case, which didn’t in fact look like a cold-blooded murder; a young boy closed the door of a tower, the victim could not come out, there was a heavy storm, and he died.

Lesley Thomson loses the plot telling us that two deaths that occurred in a particular train station – where this particular train doesn’t stop – were actually cold-blooded murders. Nowhere do Stella and Jack prove beyond reasonable doubt how the killer had the power/ability to push the victims in front of the speeding train while he was metres away from them. Murders that trained police officers and CCTV footage wrote off as suicide.

Then while Jack is in a physical confrontation with the killer – a killer with some ability to make people do as he wants – the author shuts us out of the action. When we come back the killer is dead. End of story, triple murder solved. The reader is left to believe from the narrator’s mouth that the suspected perpetrator – a man of high standing and achievements – was capable of all the acts he was accused of without any proof.

Great stories, I believe, are not told but shown, where the reader gets involved emotionally in the whole process. Whether the writer identifies the perpetrator from the beginning or the evidence trail leads us to him. Crime stories are about unravelling to the reader the intricacy of the story, about investigations and proof, the action and danger. With all this circumstantial evidence Jack, the train driver, could be charged with murder. The Detective’s Secrets fails and falls flat on its face.

Some of the latest crime thrillers show authors slowly and successfully moving this genre into soap opera territory, telling the story rather than proving beyond reasonable doubt. In that, when they fail to prove the complexity of their ideas, they can talk about it and get away with it.

It fails the tale. It fails the genre – the thrill and the suspense of crime novel, that moment when the reader is involved – they want to shout at the detective, “you are missing it”. Those moments when the reader feels that the perpetrator is getting away with it then the surprise and relief when they are caught. “Good work”, the reader wants to tell the detective.

In The Detective’s Secret, the complexity of the characters and the intricacy of the author’s ideas are great but the author falls short in unravelling this intricacy and completely fails the story.

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