There exist in print many great mystery novels with a single plotline that burns like a laser through the reader’s imagination. Books with multiple plotlines can expand the breadth of a story, adding dimensions with which to keep the reader’s mind shuttling back and forth across the court to greet the writer’s serve. But including subplots to a story can also be tricky. They only work if the author can tie them together in a credible way. Contrived resolutions and a last recourse to deus ex machina will sink what otherwise may have been a fine piece of work.
What follows is a word about irony. Author Thomas McGuane once suggested that any novel of the American west in which the story unfolds in modern times is subject to a lack of vitality unless infused with irony. I tend to believe that the modern mystery tale is vulnerable to the same fate if not accompanied by a healthy dose of both irony and perhaps irreverence (what I refer to as the two eyes). Thus, THE BAIT SHACK is as humorous as it is suspenseful, what with the underachieving but well-meaning Dale fumbling his way through a shaky relationship with Lacy, who in turn is attempting to juggle the consequences of her husband’s social blunders and the accumulating clues of what might be an impending murder, her own. Irony is a literary device capable of ushering humor into a story without having to resort to one-liners and clever punch lines. And while there is nothing wrong with one-liners and clever punch lines, sustainable humor requires a backdrop of irony. Certainly, everyday life offers up a steaming bowl of it for writers to sink their spoons into.
What is conspicuously absent from THE BAIT SHACK is any take on the supernatural. The two villains who provide an all too palpable sense of menace and who push the plot along are distinctly unalike. Yet both are sufficiently cunning and spooky to preclude invocation of the otherworldly. A fine line separates the traditional ghost and mystery stories. Any attempt to abolish that line in this book would have resulted in a deeply flawed plot.
Author Harry Hughes is a veteran of both the Viet Nam War and the Woodstock Festival. He is an award-winning songwriter and Associate Professor of Psychology. Seven years of his life is documented in the National Book Critics Circle Award nominated book, HOMEFIRES by Donald Katz (Harper Collins Press, 1992). After being published in multiple professional science journals, Harry’s first short story, A RIVER TOO DISTANT, was published along with works by Edward Albee and Joseph Heller, in Hampton Shorts, Vol.3, 1998. His debut novel, THE BAIT SHACK, has been published by BeWrite Books and is scheduled to be released on October 28, 2008. A native Manhattanite, Harry now lives in Utah. His website is www.hughesauthor.net.