~by David H.
One of the central tenets of a mystery is the solution. As a reader, we know that at some point, the main character will discover it and expose the criminal behind everything. But some books take a different approach. What if the central point of the book is the mystery itself, not the final solution? In this column, we’ll take a look at some books where that final solution is left to the reader, not the characters.
A recent example of this type is the novel Night Film by Marisha Pessl. In it, the central mystery is the death of a young woman, Ashley Cordova, who appears to have committed suicide in an abandoned warehouse in Manhattan. Our detective is investigative journalist Scott McGrath, who sabotaged his career investigating Ashley’s father, a reclusive filmmaker named Stanislas Cordova. Cordova’s films are dark and disturbing, barely seen by the public, and inspire a cult-like obsession in his fans. McGrath is convinced that Ashley’s death is linked to those films. Accompanied by a pair of unconventional assistants, who are almost as mysterious as Cordova, our protagonist’s search for the truth culminates in a nightmarish journey through the locked gates of Cordova’s mansion.
Night Film layers mystery upon mystery, with solutions that range from the mundane to the supernatural. Each time a potential answer is given, the reader is introduced to a new character whose story changes what we think we know. While Night Film never offers its readers a “final” solution, it does offer a gripping dark ride, featuring quirky characters and an off-kilter sense of humor that makes the book a pleasure to read.
From the streets of New York, we travel to New England and the dying factory town of Quinsigamond. Beginning with award-winning novel Box Nine, author Jack O’Connell lovingly details the people and places in a town that holds as many mysteries as the more famous town of Twin Peaks. And if, like David Lynch, O’Connell is more enthralled by those mysteries then their solutions, the series holds so many pleasures that their lack of answers isn’t a problem.
Box Nine follows Lenore Thomas, a speed-addicted police detective, in her pursuit of the town’s top druglord. But that pursuit is complicated by the arrival of a new type of drug: “Lingo”, a psychedelic that speeds its user’s brain and speech centers until their words become a high pitched, mosquito-like whine. And Lenore’s twin brother Ike has problems as well. An employee of the post office, Ike has become obsessed with the strange deliveries made to box #9, boxes that smell very bad and are about the size of a human head.
Continuing with the novels Wireless, The Skin Palace, and The Word Made Flesh, O’Connell’s Quinsigamond novels are a portal to a town filled with characters ranging from midget wireless enthusiasts to cultists obsessed with Dorothy’s red shoes from The Wizard of Oz. Unconventional and occasionally surreal, they’re the perfect antidote for the common mystery.
We hope you enjoyed the Mystery Checklist Challenge!