Shouting at the screen (and the page)
*Spoiler alert: The following review of The Sixes by Kate White doesn’t tell you who did it, but it tells you who didn’t*
Jurassic Park hit theaters for the first time when I was nine years old. My mother had thought about asking our live-in nanny, Lori, to come with us but in the end decided to make the new dinosaur movie a mother-daughter adventure. About a week later Lori came back from the theater after having seen the movie by herself.
“Oh my God! It was so scary!” She announced. “Those dinosaurs! Oh my God!”
My mom and I suppressed smiles. I mean, sure, the dinosaurs were scary. And just because I was nine and she was a grown woman didn’t mean she couldn’t have gotten more scared than I had gotten.
“When they came into the kitchen I was so scared! I shouted out for those poor kids to hide!”
What? I still remember the kitchen scene. Three velociraptors were hunting the young kids and it was dark and terrifying. But shouting? Aloud? In a movie theater?
“I just screamed at them that the dinosaurs were coming. A man from the theater came and asked me to please be quiet, but I couldn’t! I just had to warn them!”
Did I mention she was a grown ass woman? She went on to tell us that she quieted down for a while but then another scary scene came on and she shouted for the characters on the screen to watch out again and had to be quieted by the theater staff again or she needed to leave. My mother and I thanked our lucky stars that we didn’t take her with us. She didn’t last as my nanny much longer after that.
This exchange came to mind after I finished Kate White’s The Sixes. Usually I don’t try to figure out whodunit while reading mysteries but this time I thought I’d give it a go. At one point the main character, Phoebe, starts a romantic relationship with a professor, Duncan Shaw, at the university where she currently teaches. Duncan reveals over dinner that his late wife, dying of cancer, drowned in the bathtub after she fell asleep reading there. The main mystery of the novel surrounded multiple drownings in the river that ran through campus. So of course I’m here, shouting in my head at Phoebe, that DUNCAN DID IT! Watch out lady, he’s a murderer!
I figured that he was impatient for his wife to die, he wanted her money, and was worried that her cancer would go into remission. See, Duncan and his wife were about to separate before she got sick. He was gallant and stayed with her, even moving back to her childhood home, while she lived out her last years. He told Phoebe that people who are severely sick often don’t have the same startle reflex that healthy people have. Normally the inability to breathe would wake someone and prevent their drowning in a bathtub. But his dear dead wife was so ill that her body failed to respond. He had even warned her of the danger of reading in the tub but she ignored him.
LIAR! I shouted! Watch out, Phoebe! He’s asking so many questions about the case because he wants to make sure you aren’t onto him! He killed his wife for her money, she was taking too long to die and then he developed a taste for it. He’s the one who has been drugging young college students and shoving them in the river, their healthy bodies useless, unable to startle them awake enough to swim to shore.
I pictured him watching from the darkened shore. Clearing the slackers and dullards from this small college campus. Someone needed to warn Phoebe. I tried, but like Lori shouting in the theater, it was useless, these characters’ lives were preordained.
Also I was wrong.
I don’t like being wrong. It’s embarrassing. Not as embarrassing as muttering to a character in a book that they need to use better judgment and stop sleeping with the killer, but close. Duncan didn’t do it. Someone else was shoving students in the river. Phoebe found out eventually, got into trouble, was hospitalized, but came out on top. Blah, blah, blah.
All the bad guys were taken care of. But I didn’t care. Duncan didn’t do it. My imagination had taken over while I was reading the book. In my opinion, it did a better job than the author’s. Duncan would have made a creepy, dark killer. His motives only a little comprehensible. His manner unassuming, sexy, persuasive. If he were the killer the book would have been better.
That’s why I don’t try to figure out how books end. I don’t keep track of clues and piece together the hints and evidence. If I’m right, why read the book? It had better be superbly written to keep me going once I know the bad guy. And if I’m wrong, I feel tricked. Kate White was pointing all the fingers in the world at Duncan. Looking back, it was too obvious. I should have known better. I might have even guessed the real killer if I hadn’t been too busy shouting about the wrong guy.
It made me mad at White for fooling me. She could have written the book without making Duncan look so guilty. It would have been better, in my opinion if either Duncan had done it or if he had a smaller role in the whole thing. Who likes feeling stupid? I understand not wanting to reveal the bad guy too soon, as an author you want readers to finish the book and then go buy your other books as well. But there is a fine line to walk and White overstepped. Maybe I was easier to fool because I was new to playing detective. But I still didn’t like how the ending unfolded. My bad guy was the better bad guy.
So I was wrong, tricked, and disappointed. Not a great way to end a book.