Books: Monday Mourning

It seems that I’ve gotten to the point that I’ve read most of our library’s CD audiobooks that really appeal to me. Now I’m going through the ones I passed over before, trying to find the ones that I might have been too quick to judge based on the cover. But as I listen to them, I find that my initial reluctance to check out the books may have been justified.

I just finished Monday Mourning by Kathy Reichs, which is fascinating in terms of what can be learned from mere skeletal remains, but is less satisfying when it comes to storyline and characters. From reading several reader reviews at amazon.com, I find that some readers think this novel is disappointing compared to her earlier books – and that others see it as evidence of how she is improving as a writer. Hmm, not sure if I want to try one of her other books or not.

I also learned from there that in each novel, she tackles some current social issue, and weaves it into the mystery that has to be solved by Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist who is based, professionally at least, on Kathy Reichs herself. In this novel, it is teenage girls who are kidnapped and then kept as sex slaves.

On the one hand, I appreciate a novelist’s efforts to engage such issues, rather than just providing entertainment. But reading these things makes me feel slightly unclean, as though I need to somehow cleanse myself of some repulsive residue. And as with a scab that it is hard not to pick at, I find that I both want to know the details of such cases and at the same time do not want such images in my mind.

While the story has a somewhat optimistic ending for one of the girls, others have died, and one seems to have reacted to her suffering by taking on the perverted tendencies of her captor. I wondered, as I listened, how true-to-life such scenarios were, but it turns out that the story of Colleen Stan referenced in the book (as the “inspiration” for the sadistic kidnapper/killer) turns out to be true.

One of the most depressing aspects of the story is how suffering forced her to become cooperative with her captor/torturer, to the point that she was allowed some limited freedom yet feared retribution too much to try to escape. After the kidnapper’s wife finally did help her escape, and the man was brought to justice, his defense attorney argued that “Colleen Stan” (not her real name) had a consensual relationship with him, based on her failure to try to escape, plus letters in which she told him she loved him (these, she claims, were written in obedience to him).

One reason I enjoy reading Dean Koontz’s books is because his characters are fighters – psychologically if not physically. Even when trapped by circumstances and cruel, twisted villains, they show strength of character, and survive and escape because of it. Such a person wants to live, in spite of the current hideous circumstances, and fights not just to live but to gain freedom, rather than taking the course of least resistance and complying with the villain’s demands.

I’m afraid I would be much like Colleen Stan or the girls in Monday Mourning, cooperating with my captor in order to get better treatment. One of the difficult things to deal with after being raped was that I wondered if I should have struggled more, even after my assailant had easily overpowered me (and I couldn’t see how further struggling would do anything except make him angry).

At the hearing in court, the defense attorney questioned why I hadn’t screamed for help, to get the attention of the people in the house next door. I explained that I thought the rapist would kill me before help could arrive, but I wondered if it was just that I was too passive. (The case did not go to trial, as the man agreed to a plea bargain minutes before the trial was scheduled to begin.)

I read novels largely for entertainment, but there is little entertainment value in reading about the cruel and degrading things people do. In cases where the victim is buoyed by faith (The Hiding Place) or by sheer determination not to remain a victim, there is something positive that transcends the negatives. I don’t find that in this book.

I don’t know which sort of victim is more common in real life. Even if it is the passive sort, and even if I would be likely to be that way myself, I would like to be the kind of person who would be a fighter, at least psychologically, rather than capitulating. And I prefer to read about that kind of person also.

It’s hard to say what I think of Temperance Brennan as a character. Professionally very competent, but emotionally unpredictable. Impulsive, prone to act against her better judgment. More like a teen than a mature woman (with a 20-year marriage behind her) when it comes to her affair with a detective with whom she also has to work professionally. Good at finding clues and putting them together – though in real life I doubt that Reichs found that clues fit together so neatly. I hope that Reichs patterned only Brennan’s professional persona on herself and not the rest.

I like reading mysteries because I enjoy seeing how a puzzle is solved, and because the suspense makes me want to hear the rest of the story. I also enjoy the information I learn along the way, whether about forensics or history/geography (these novels usually tell a good deal about the places where they are set), or issues I may know little about. But at the end of some of these books, I find myself wishing for something more uplifting.

I tried doing a google search for “mystery” and “uplifting.” But mostly I get dozens of hits for Jamie Lee Curtis’s children’s book Where Do Balloons Go? an Uplifting Mystery. Next I tried “wholesome” in place of “uplifting,” and got other choices, but they still all seem to be children’s books. I like children’s books, but that’s not what I’m looking for. Is there something as wholesome as Jan Karon’s Mitford books, but with more of a mystery/suspense angle?

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