"U" is for Unsatisfying (Uhnak)

What I read: Victims by Dorothy Uhnak

I'm not a huge fan of crime novels. Mysteries, yes. I LOVE mysteries. And I'm a big fan of television crime (CSI, Law & Order). I've just never found literary cops and robbers particularly interesting.

Victims, however, starts out good. The main cop protagonist is interesting, and the entire novel (at first) is based around the real-life Kitty Genovese case in which a woman was stabbed (several times) outside an apartment complex; her neighbors saw and heard it happen, but no one helped.

Using a similar set-up, 2/3rds of Victims focuses on interviews with the neighbors and their reasons for not calling 911. Uhnak does a fairly good job demonstrating a wide range of what is popularly called the Bystander Effect. There is a nice degree of tension between the protagonist, the famous reporter who wants to write about the neighbors, and the neighbors.

And then, the book completely collapses. It collapses because Uhnak falls back on the plot device of POLITICAL MACHINATIONS by POWERFUL PEOPLE.

There are really no words to express how unbelievably boring this plot device is. If anything can make me fall asleep while upright, it is POLITICAL MACHIzzzzzzzzz.

Like death, POLITICAL MACHINATIONS by POWERFUL PEOPLE is a writer's ultimate cop-out, a contemporary deux ex machina. The autopsy report was changed! Thousands of workers were bribed to keep their mouths shut! The reporter sells out for movie rights! Money buys off everyone!!

It's boring. (This may be why, while I enjoy crime shows, I lose interest the moment the Mafia enters the picture.) And it completely overwhelms the human element. The story is no longer about individuals struggling to get on in life; it's about THE POLITICAL MACHINATIONS of POWERFUL PEOPLE.

How can this type of art even speak to people? Other than conspiracy-theorist, paranoid-type people? Sure, if all a person wants out of life is a fear of big, bad forces OUT THERE--I suppose the art has some use. But I can believe in big, bad forces OUT THERE without the help of art. They're called volcanoes. And earthquakes. And, if I'm really insistent, asteroids. I don't need to use people to clutter up my vision of big, bad forces.

If I'm going to watch movies and read books, I expect something more human: something closer to the human condition. The trappings are unimportant. The exploration of human interaction is what matters. This is why I can watch crime shows, read romances, and gobble up fantasy and science-fiction. And then go out and read decent history books. Genre matters less than human connection, be it humorous, light, fantastical, bizarre, down-to-earth, etc. etc.

But plot devices that fall back on tired cliches about everyone being at the mercy of THE MAN--oh, please. Who cares. Go leave that message on someone else's machine.

Give me Columbo over POLITICAL MACHINATIONS any day.

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