Throw in a Little Murder.

Comments about The Giver of Stars, part 2

After months out in the weather, in the forest where wild animals roam, the body is still recognizable.

When I wrote my previous post about Jojo Moyes’s book, I hadn’t finished reading it. Now I have. I enjoyed her book very much until I got to the murder, then my eyes started rolling so much that it was hard to finish reading.

People who are not mystery writers should not write mystery novels. If they want to change genres, fine, just learn something about the genre first. It seems to me that Moyes wrote herself into a corner and did not know how to finish The Giver of Stars, so she threw in a murder. A totally preposterous murder.

Spoiler alert.

A book as a murder weapon supposedly used to bash in the back of a man’s head. Little Women, wielded by a woman. I supposed it could happen with a 759-page hardback book. And then this smart woman goes off and leaves the book behind to incriminate herself. Uh-huh.

We’re supposed to believe that a backwoods hillbilly wanted to read Little Women and when he finished it, conscientiously set off on foot, on a snowy, icy day, set off to return the book to the library. Never mind that the story is about packhorse librarians who not only deliver books to people living in the hills of Kentucky but also pick them up a week or two later and return them to the library. Then this dedicated reader slipped on ice, fell over backward, and cracked his skull on a rock, the book flew into the air and landed on his face leaving bruises.

A murder weapon. Really?

Months later, when the body is found, the now pregnant horseback librarian is arrested and held in jail for months where she eventually gives birth and months after that is put on trial. The motive for the murder is supposedly a blood feud that has lasted for generations and was started by the victim’s “descendants” (you read that right) that’s lasted for generations.

Wouldn’t the crunch of hoofs on an icy trail have alerted the victim? A question never asked.

I hate it when writers, for the sake of not spoiling their story, make smart characters behave stupidly. I’m a layman but I could have presented a better case for the defense than the lawyer in the book. Anyone could have been out in the woods. Anyone could have wielded the blunt instrument. The woods are full of rocks. But does the lawyer make that argument? Of course not. The book would have ended a hundred pages sooner if he had. No dramatic childbirth in the county jail. No heroic librarians striving to save their friend. No self-sacrificing suspect sending away her baby and child so they won’t be tainted by association with her.

 I won’t reveal the outcome of the trial, but you can probably guess.

There’s a very broad hint that the murder victim committed incest and impregnated his own daughter. Talk about a motive for murder, but that’s glossed over. Both his daughters are too mousy to commit homicide.

Will I be reading any of Moyes’s other books? I’m not sure but probably not. There are real mystery writers out there whose books I enjoy.

Moyes isn’t the only author who’s fallen into the trap of thinking that including a mysterious death in her story is a breeze. Elin Hilderbrand fell into the same trap in two of her books, The Castaways and The Perfect Couple.

The Castaways is the most annoying of the two. A married couple drowns under mysterious circumstances. They are part of a group of friends who are so irritating that I figured that they must have drowned themselves just to get away from these people. In between long, overly-detailed narratives about the history of these relationships, the local Nantucket cops investigate the deaths. The case comes to nothing.

The same cops investigate the drowning in The Perfect Couple. Once again, the case comes to nothing but the reader has wasted hours trying to figure out which of the annoying cast of characters “done it.”

Not that talented mystery writers don’t mess up. They do, especially if they’ve been writing best-selling books for years, have run out of ideas, and are now too big to edit.

It pays to read the blurb. Read reviews, not just newspaper reviews. As far as I know, there are no more Dorothy Parkers, who wrote things like, “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” Read reviews by fellow readers. Don’t read just the five-star reviews. Read the one and two-star reviews. They can save you time and money.

Poem: Amy Lowell

American poet. 1874 – 1925

The Giver of Stars

Hold your soul open for my welcoming.
Let the quiet of your spirit bathe me
With its clear and rippled coolness,
That, loose-limbed and weary, I find rest,
Outstretched upon your peace, as on a bed of ivory.

Let the flickering flame of your soul play all about me,
That into my limbs may come the keenness of fire,
The life and joy of tongues of flame,
And, going out from you, tightly strung and in tune,
I may rouse the blear-eyed world,
And pour into it the beauty which you have begotten.

“The Giver of Stars” is also the title of a book by British author, Jojo Moyes. It’s in those pages that I found the first verse of this lovely poem.

Wiki describes Ms. Moyes as a romance writer. Since I’ve read only half of The Giver of Stars, and a summery of her first book, Me Before You, I can’t say for sure that I would agree with that description. Based on what I’ve read of “Stars” I can say that her books are most likely not what Americans would call romance novels even though she has twice won the Romance Novel of the Year award from the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The Giver of Stars seems more like women’s fiction, the story of friendship between five women.

The novel is based on the true stories of women who were traveling horseback librarians who, during the Depression, carried books to people who had no other access to reading materials.

The novel is set in rural Kentucky’s coal country. The main character is Alice Wright, a young English woman who marries a handsome American not just because she’s fallen in love with him, but in order to escape an unhappy home life. Her marriage proves to be a disappointment–a seemingly indifferent husband and an overbearing father-in-law with whom the young couple lives. Seeking escape from her suffocating new home, Alice volunteers to be one of four horseback librarians.

The Giver of Stars is an interesting book for its descriptions of life during the Thirties in rural Kentucky, the lives of the librarians, and the land they live in. Some of the details don’t seem all that believable to me. I’ve caught more than one anachronism. But, after all, this is fiction, not a textbook. The story is good enough for me to overlook minor mistakes. To me this seems like a gentle book. Yes, brutal things happen, but so far they are described innocuously.

Besides the inherent interest of the story, I’m also reading The Giver of Stars to learn why Ms. Moyes’ books have been translated into forty-six different languages and have sold eight million copies. I’m hoping to learn something from her that I can apply to my own writing.