RARA-AVIS: Dated books

From: Doug Bassett ( dj_bassett@yahoo.com)
Date: 14 Dec 2000

Some of the comments Mr. Pelecanos made regarded Spenser got me thinking about the notion of "dated" books. I'm not talking here about "dated" in the sense of old-fashioned or quaint, but rather "dated" in the way Mr. Pelecanos seems to mean it -- that is, books that were great when they first came out, but now, after countless repetition of the plot devices, just don't work the way they once did.

I just read Cornell Woolrich's STRANGLER'S SERENADE
(published under his William Irish pseud.). I'm not a big Woolrich fan, but I rather liked this: there's some credible attempts at humor, the writing is sharp, and the moody emotionalism is there but doesn't swallow things whole, as I think it does in some of his other books (I MARRIED A DEAD MAN, for instance.)

Unfortunately, though, the plot twists that govern this book have been used and reused so much that you can see 'em coming a mile away. The central plot revolves around that moldy-oldy the tontine, which was showing its age when Wilkie Collins used it. Even worse, though, is the plot twist that kicks off the climax: I don't want to give anything away to those who haven't read this, but let's just say it's a stock situation that's been reused many many times in movies and TV shows. Now, it may well be that Woolrich was the first who used this particular plot twist, but it doesn't really matter: I knew the trick and it just killed the final third of the book for me.

Maybe straight suspense thrillers suffer from this the most? The more original and effective the plot or
"gimmick", the more likely they are to be imitated?

Just thinking aloud here,


===== Doug Bassett dj_bassett@yahoo.com

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