Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sweet Thing Going

“Sweet Thing Going,” by Percy Spurlark Parker. Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. April 2011.

I have written here about nice bad guys and nasty good guys, but what about stories where the protagonist is a nasty bad guy? Well, the story can go three ways:
1. The bad guy wins. Not very common, except in heist stories, like Richard Stark’s Parker books. (I also remember an astonishing story I read in AHMM, probably thirty years ago in which the tale ends not with the crime being solved but with the sheriff getting a satisfactory bribe from a suspect… Don’t know the author or the title, but I still remember the plot.)
2. The bad guy turns out to be a good guy. Usually an example of what I call the Unknown Narrator story, in which the reader only knows what people are saying about the main character, and, as is often the case, the common knowledge is wrong.
3. The bad guy gets caught in his own trap. Also known as The Biter Bit.

The thing about Biter Bit stories is that you can usually see them coming. Percy Spurlark Parker’s story is about a cop named Rycann who is as dirty as they come, squeezing the petty crooks on his beat for money and sex. You know he’s going to get his comeuppance, so the question is: how will it happen?

And this is where the question of story length comes in. When I turned to the last page I could see that it was the last page and as I read down I was thinking: there’s no way he can pull off a surprising and satisfying ending in the space that’s left.

Obviously I was wrong or I would be writing about a different story this week. Nice job.

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