Excerpted from David Baldacci’s introduction of “No Rest For The Dead”, a thriller now out in paperback written by 26 different authors, including Kathy Reichs, R.L. Stine, Alexander McCall Smith, Lori Armstrong, Jeffery Deaver, Sandra Brown, and others. All proceeds from the book go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
With the typical mystery story, readers are enthralled by the talents and imagination of only one writer. However, with this crime caper, the reader will enjoy the skillful spoils of twenty-six esteemed wordsmiths who craft plots, wield poisons, and toggle the life-death switch with the best of them.
This is a rare thing indeed because mystery writers are notoriously reclusive, paranoid, and unfriendly folks when it comes to their work. They like calling the final shots on their novels; such absolute power is intoxicating if only for its rarity, particularly if they’ve sold their work to Hollywood and find that their power has withered to less than zero.
However, outside the realm of stories and with drink in hand, they are interesting and convivial people who always have a crowd around them at parties, as all good storytellers do. That so many have agreed to craft chapters in the tale you’re about to plunge into is as much a testament to the persuasive powers of the editors at The Strand Magazine as it is to the graciousness of the creators assembled here.
Mysteries are the guilty cheats of the book world. Some highbrow critics and reviewers look down on them in public and then eagerly read them on the subway hidden behind an absolutely pristine copy of “Ulysses,” bubbling with the pleasure of the child who has just discovered Sherlock Holmes.
It is also perhaps the sole arena on processed paper where the reader can match wits with the creator. If you’re really good, you can sometimes arrive at the answer before the creator wants you to. You may also cry, as you do with love-story weepies; or laugh as you may at the pratfalls of comic characters; or be horrified as only horror stories can induce.
Yet with the unique class of the whodunit you may enjoy all of those emotional swings and still be primed and poised to reveal the answer prematurely! And if you do succeed in besting the creator, you of course have de facto license to race to Amazon or Barnesandnoble.com, or else your personal blog, and crow about your victory to the digital heavens.
However, here I believe you will have met your match. The lineup of writers who have contributed to this mystery is akin to the Murderers’ Row of the 1927 New York Yankees. There is not a weak spot in the bunch. You will be enthralled as much by the charming quirks provided by individual voices as the story passes from one creator’s mind to the next as you will by the quality of the tale.
While they each deliver their own signature brand of storytelling to the novel, it is startling how these writers, several of whom are friends of mine, have woven a yarn that seems to be the product of one mind, one imagination (albeit schizophrenic), and one on steroids of such strength that even Major League Baseball would ban them, and that is indeed saying something.
The story kicks off with a bang. A murderess was executed ten years ago. Rosemary Thomas brutally killed her husband, Christopher Thomas, stuffing his body inside an iron maiden and shipping it to the German Historical Museum of Berlin. Everyone knows she did it, though a few doubts linger, which led to the detective in charge losing his bearings and his wife. Then a stunner comes along.
A memorial service is planned for Rosemary on the tenth anniversary of her execution. All the usual suspects, and several folks with passable motives to have done the deed, are invited. The scene is set. I won’t give away any more than that because it would be unfair to the creators who have worked hard to put this all together.
Yet I will add that if you were expecting an Agatha Christie ending where Poirot or Marple stands up, calmly lays out the case, and reveals the true murderer, you’re in for a shock. The creators have, collectively, another denouement in mind. And in my humble opinion it’s a twist that is so original you won’t have to concern yourself with bragging on your blog about how you figured it all out long before the conclusion.
Well, I guess you still can, but you’d be lying.
If this were a peer-review process, I’d give everyone involved a glowing report. A vigilant reader can certainly tell when a writer is operating at a high level. But it really takes another writer to delve into the nuances of a story, break it down like game film, and truly see the effort that has gone into the product. We can well appreciate what it takes because we aspire to do it with every book. Being merely human, sometimes we triumph and sometimes we don’t.
Yet there’s nothing like drilling a line just right, honing a plot twist to perfection, or tooling a character arc until it gleams with the shine of genius. All of which originates with the sweat on the writer’s brow. It’s hard, what these writers have done. Give them their due. When you’ve finished with the story, tell your friends to read it. Let them in on the fun. Tell them it’s a brain twister for sure. And, okay, you can tell them you figured it out in the last three pages and therefore found it a bit predictable, but they won’t.
Which will make you look like a person who is several pay grades above the FBI’s best. And everyone will have a good time enjoying the simple (and complex) experience of tearing through a great mystery.