|Three members of the Red Read Robin Book Club|
Last week one of my book clubs, The Red Read Robins, met at my house for dinner, wine and a book discussion. Since I was the hostess, I chose the book, The Silence of Murder, an Edgar Award winner by Dandi Daley Mackall. After dinner, we gathered in my living room and I started the discussion by choosing one character at a time to discuss. The book revolved around Jeremy, Hope’s eighteen year old brother on trial for murder. Jeremy doesn’t talk so he couldn’t defend himself. I saved him for last. First we discussed the protagonist, a sixteen year old girl named Hope. Since it was written in first person, she and her feelings and thoughts made her more knowable to us, and we got to know Jeremy from her thoughts about him. We all liked Hope and thought she was a strong character.
Next we discussed Hope’s mother, Rita. No one liked her and some totally hated her. A good mother, she was not. I asked them to think about why she was the way she was. I pointed out she’d gotten pregnant when she was fifteen or sixteen and left town as soon as she realized she was with child. I pointed out how hard it would have been to support herself and her baby that young without a high school diploma or family. Yes, she had a series of boyfriends including one who was Hope’s father. Jeremy was the one she’d been pregnant with when she left town. Rita brought her children back to Grain, the town she grew up in. Her parents were dead and she had no siblings. She worked off and on as a waitress for a guy who’d had a high school crush on her. Rita had developed a serious alcohol problem trying to cope with life. In fact, Hope was the only responsible member of this small family since Jeremy was a dreamer and Rita often drunk. I don’t think I elicited much if any sympathy for Rita although I tried.
We discussed each of the two boys in Hope’s life; TJ, a nerdy kid who’d been her friend since she’d moved to Grain, and Chase, a handsome, popular boy who spent his summers in Grain with his father, the local sheriff. Everyone was sympathetic with the two boys even over some of their behaviors. No one liked Sheriff Wells, the nasty guy in the piece, but I tried to show what might have made him the way he was. Chase’s mother had run off with another man and ended up with several more including a very wealthy one. Apparently Sheriff Wells never dated another woman. Also, his son looked more like his mother than the sheriff which might have had something to do with his being hard on his son.
Jeremy was the beautiful and unusual character in the book. The evidence for him being the murderer of a popular coach was strong and being a selective mute, (an early trauma had him stop talking), he did nothing to defend himself. Only Hope believed in his innocence and she worked hard to prove it. Much of the book revolved around the trial and how the prosecutor tripped up even those who had good things to say about Jeremy. Everyone in my book club loved Jeremy, a kind and gentle person. The book’s climax couldn’t be beat in my opinion, and the others agreed and was glad I’d chosen it.
That night I got to thinking of our discussion after I went to bed, and how everyone enjoyed the book, but had no sympathy for several characters; Rita and Sheriff Wells, and although they weren’t exactly likeable characters, I thought about how Mackall made them characters who weren’t flat stereotypical characters. (I actually read the book three times since I’d chosen it for my other book club, too. They also loved it.) It might have been from reading it three times, or because I’m a writer and as a writer, I want to know my characters more, even the ones who turn out to be murderers. I don’t care about the postmistress who makes walk on appearances, or Belle from Belle’s Diner, and a few other background scenery type characters, although down the road I may develop them more. Who knows? My victims are never developed enough for me to care about murdering them and probably no one else does either, but I want to know why my murderer does what s/he did? What drove them to murder? Actually, I develop my murderer enough that I always feel a little sad making them the murderer. In fact, in my latest book I switched murderers because I couldn’t bear to use the original one as a murderer anymore.
I’m not a Pollyanna seeing only good in people. Over the years there’ve been plenty of people I didn’t care for, but that doesn’t mean they were evil or bad. It was more a personality difference. I’m flawed and everyone I know is flawed even if I never see it or overlook it because it’s not that important to me. Since everyone has their flaws that should be part of the characters we create. Except for some psychopath or sociopath or a few other truly evil people, there is usually something good about everyone and should show up in our characters, too. Okay, I’ll admit there was absolutely no redeeming attribute about my latest victim, but I hope my readers think better of my murderer, at least.
Who are some of your favorite characters?
What about them drew you to them?
Were they a character you created or one in a book you read?