Friday, October 29, 2010

Divine Misdemeanor = Literary Disappointment

Even the masters make rookie mistakes, as New York Times bestselling author Laurell K. Hamilton's Divine Misdemeanors proved.

As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, I'm a huge Hamilton fan. Her characters are so very different than any others I read, and I don't mean in the fact that they have more magic and sex per page than most erotica and fantasy novels combined.
It's that her characters have this intensity in everything they do that I suspect Hamilton herself has, if her blog is any indication. There's something about that intensity that is appealing. For instance, there's always room for more people to love in both Anita and Merry's life (again, not just sexually), and it's always a conscious choice. There's always time for a little comfort or affection, and often time for a lot more. Hamilton's main characters are hyperaware of people around them and of themselves and how they react to others. They place the people they love in an obvious place of highest priority, over everything else in their life, and that main factor is what shapes many of the decisions in the novels.

I don't necessarily admire everything about the intensity Hamilton infuses in every moment or wish to emulate it. In fact, it can be downright annoying. Throughout Hamilton's novels in both the Anita Blake series and the Merry Gentry series, there are scenes that feel like they'll never end because every member of the cast has to have an emotional weigh in that then has to be discussed, debated, etc. The saving grace of these scenes is that they always develop plot or characterization.

I also admire the way Hamilton blends her style with the firm structure of a mystery. Which means that despite the magical and sexual tangents that make the stories so rich, every novel has a case to solve, a mystery or a battle, a driving action that pulls the characters along despite the fact that they'd so clearly prefer a day off.

Which is why Divine Misdemeanors was so terribly disappointing. The plot line was disjointed and mashed together. The mystery framework with a murderer to catch was there, but only in the first fifty pages and the last thirty. The middle two hundred or so pages developed character, but didn't relate at all to the murders. It was like reading two different stories that had been mushed together.

Worse, the mystery was solved in the awful deus ex machina style. Merry doesn't do a single thing to solve the crimes other than show up at the scenes and witness the aftermath. The plot moves forward because a secondary character steps back onto the scene, two hundred or so pages after he was first mentioned, and confesses everything, giving Merry exactly the information she needs to solve the case and save the day.

Too weak, too convenient! It was as if Hamilton hit the three hundredth page, realized that her deadline was upon her, and rather than finish rounding the story out, smashed the ending to the middle and the publisher ran with it. Very disappointing.

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