Genre Structure

Spoiler Alert: If you read this, I’m giving away some things about this book that you might rather have as a surprise.

I stayed up late last night to finish reading P.J. Parrish’s A Thousand Bones. Louis Kincaid is one of my favorite mystery series. I’d read two cozies and was in the mood for something grittier, heavier, and Kincaid is always a sure bet for me. For the first time, though, I had issues with the storyline. The writing, as always, was topnotch. The characters are so complex, they’re amazing. Even secondary characters pull me in. But Parrish played with the basic structure of a mystery, and it made me realize how much I LIKE that structure.

For one thing, for the first time in the series, Kincaid isn’t the POV character. His love interest, the female Miami detective, Joe (short for Joette), is. Parrish framed Joe’s story to blend it into the series, and it mostly worked, although the frame was really rushed. She had Joe come to see Kincaid and ask him to walk the beach with her while she tells him something important. The “something” makes up the entire book–the story of the horrific case Joe worked on her first job as a deputy in Michigan. Parrish is never nice to her characters. She comes up with unusual, grim crimes for them to deal with, but in this book, she outdoes herself. She uses the Indian Windigo legend as a motive for a man who hunts women, and the only remains the Echo Bay police force can find of them are scattered bones.

I settled in to add up clues to who the killer was, and Parrish tossed a red herring or two at us, and then at a little halfway through the book, she revealed who he is. It stunned me. I even reread the scene, thinking I’d misunderstood. I mean, one of the things I love about mysteries is trying to figure out who the villain is and why he’s committing the crimes. But at midway through the book, I knew the villain. That left me wondering where the story would go next until I realized she told us so that she could pit the killer against Joe and see who survived. I shifted genres from reading a mystery to reading a thriller. Okay, I could go with that, even though I like mysteries better. But then, three-fourths of the way through the book, the killer catches Joe, does what he does to women, and leaves her there to die. And he takes off. Wait!! I’m not used to that happening in books either. And I was left wondering again–what now? It took me a while to switch gears and get back into the story while Joe tries to heal. I slogged for a while until the plot picked up steam again and felt like a mystery that careened to an ending that…surprised me. I’m not sure how I feel about that either. Again, Parrish went against type. And part of me got it and understood, and part of me wanted my old true tropes back. I know. I sound pitiful. Parrish’s story is sophisticated, and maybe all I wanted this time around was a tried and true mystery.

At the end of the entire flashback, Parrish frames the book again by having Kincaid ask Joe why she told him all this, bringing the mystery back to the regular series format. And Joe’s answer…again….threw the series in a new direction I’m not overly happy about. I won’t ruin the surprise by mentioning it, and it’s just a personal frustration of mine, but I was disappointed.

Am I happy I read the book? ABSOLUTELY. But it’s the 8th (?) book in the series, and it didn’t do what I’ve come to expect from a Kincaid mystery. Or any mystery, actually. It was brilliantly written. And I’ve always thought it wouldn’t matter to me if a book “followed the rules” of genre tropes, but this made me realize I like those tropes more than I realized. It was still a great book and a powerful read, but I hope the next Kincaid is closer to what I’ve come to expect.