It’s difficult to know where to start with the Quentin Patrick bibliography. There are several pen names hiding several real names. (Dick Callingham, Q Patrick, Jonathan Stagge, Quentin Patrick, Patrick Quentin, etc.) My only previous undertaking was Death’s Old Sweet Song, one of the best (and most savage) murder mysteries I’ve read. After reading the description of The Grindle Nightmare, I knew this would be my type of book.
TGN contains a small town filled with buried secrets, vivisection, sadistic murders, multiple alibi problems, frank sexuality (for 1935), a suitably twisty climax and…and it is one of the more tepid and lackluster books I’ve read for some time. What went wrong?
Perhaps, it’s unfair to compare it with DOSS, but the similarities are too striking. From what I’ve read about the Patricks, they often deal with a New England village confronted with confounding murder plots, so comparison seems in order.
DOSS had a propulsive narrative. It constantly moved forward and, by doing so, deepened the mystery to absurdly entertaining levels. TGN is a stop-start series of events which don’t seem to bother the characters all that much. For example, there is a moment when a group of the suspects sees a face pressed against a window at night. Think of the face-appearing moment in The Reader is Warned. Think of how frightening it was, how it caused you to question the sanity of the narrator. This time? It’s no big deal. One guy goes outside to check it out and finds an injured dog. It has no immediacy, barely leaving a mark on the characters until later when it’s necessary for the plot.
What a shitty waste of a face appearing in a window.
And let’s talk about character for a second. Admittedly a few of the people here are well-drawn–I particularly enjoyed the town floozy and the despised rich old man; however, most of these characters are capable of any action at any time. Toni (the narrator’s roommate) is probably the worst. The man at the end of the book bears little relation to the one at the beginning or the middle. When characters don’t possess at least the bare outlines of internal logic, their actions have no meaning. I don’t need Brand levels of empathy, I just need to know a few solid characteristics, be they real or faked.
One difficulty in writing a murder mystery is the expected reactions of the suspects. Authors in this genre are not interested in dealing with grief. After all, there is a plot which needs setting in motion. But you can’t just leave it alone completely. Even one line — “I noticed no one was reacting the way they should.” — would be acceptable. In TGN, there is nothing. People joke about the murders, but it doesn’t reveal them as callous. They just do it to do it. It’s not flavor, it isn’t a clue–I honestly don’t know what the hell it is. Our narrator (a boring man named Doug–his name is about as deep as the character goes) becomes a sleuth because…well, I still have no idea. Sometime he wants to save someone from being suspected, sometime he has nothing better to do.
Terror: There is nothing remotely frightening about this book. I didn’t care who got killed and I barely cared whodunit. My trade paperback was 153 pages, but it took me 3 days and a lot of straining to finish it. All the brutal murders (a child strapped alive to a tree, men dragged to their deaths, the bloody gun room) were yawn inducing. That cannot happen in your murder mystery!(!)
How’s the resolution? It’s okay. There is a logical explanation for what happens, but it’s far from satisfying. What else is good? There’s a decent sense of place, including a map of Grindle Valley. It doesn’t matter. This is a book I had been dying to read, making it about as unfulfilling an experience as I can imagine.
I’m not a critic. My blog was creating solely because I am an author, and authors nowadays are supposed to have blogs. There is no sense of reading to gain perspective on the history of murder mysteries or to complete an author’s work. I read for inspiration and enjoyment. There is none to be found with TGN.
If just one of you has been turned off from reading this book, all my bitching and moaning will have been worth it. You’re welcome.