Fatal Detective

Fatal WitnessI don’t like stupid people.

And when I say that, I mean I don’t like them in real life (I do my best to avoid them, although sometimes that’s just not possible), and I don’t like them in works of fiction.

Of course, I make an exception for comic characters, who can be equal parts exasperating and endearing. What would the world be without Joey? Or Gracie Allen? (Although a case can be made that Gracie was not stupid but was simply working with a different kind of logic. At least, I think it can.) Or any number of other great comic characters.

But if the character isn’t comic, merely stupid, then I find them just plain annoying.

And that’s the problem with Robert Bryndza’s mystery novel Fatal Witness, there are way too many stupid characters.

But first things first.

Fatal Witness is a procedural, not a whodunit. Now novels that follow professional detectives as they investigate a crime can be both procedurals and whodunits, like Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books.

What’s the difference? I define a whodunit as a mystery novel where the author fairly lays out the clues so it’s possible for the reader to arrive at the solution by a process similar to the fictional detective, and where the detective generally lays out the case for the guilty party at the end. But a procedural (sometimes called a police procedural) merely follows the investigation; sometimes the clues are all fairly laid out for the reader (in which case it may also be a whodunit), and sometimes the detective identifies the culprit by uncovering a smoking gun type clue at the very end, or sometimes the investigation might focus of the guilty culprit early on and the novel focuses on finding the evidence to bring that perp to justice.

Anyway Fatal Witness is a procedural. Now in this case I pretty much figured out who the culprit was about a hundred pages before the detective stumbled upon the incriminating evidence, but I still wouldn’t call it a whodunit.

One of the first things that bothered me about the book was its writing style. It almost seems to have been written at about a seventh grade reading level; there are lots of short sentences piled upon short sentences, and there are occasional stilted sentences to boot.

Worse, although writer Bryndza peppers his story with the latest technology, he ruins the effect with lots of silly errors. Like wrongly calling the operating system that runs on Macs iOS, when it’s actual macOS. And he keeps insisting that Face ID shows an image of one’s face on the screen; well, not on my iPhone it doesn’t. It sounds like he’s never used the technologies that he’s writing about.

There are other annoyances in the writing, such as the time Erika “slipped out of the flat” twice within three sentences. An editor should have caught those mistakes.

But what really annoyed me was the presence of all the stupid characters that fill the book. Most of these are victims or suspects, such as the woman who thinks her life is in danger, and instead of notifying the authorities, runs off to Scotland (the novel is set in London), and later she unthinkingly opens a door in the dead of night to her killer.

OK. So not all victims and suspects are the brightest bulbs in the barn (or whatever), but the lead detective turns out to be an idiot as well.

Her name is Erika Foster, and this is apparently the seventh book in which she appears. I can’t imagine how she’s still around. She impetuously targets a suspect based on extremely flimsy evidence, she releases a potential victim without offering any kind of protection (that victim is subsequently killed), and when she discovers the smoking gun in the presence of the culprit, she pieces together all the clues out loud even though she has no means of protecting herself (she’s on crutches due to investigating a late night noise in her house in bare feet and stepping on broken glass) let alone protecting the innocent bystander who is also present. That bystander is summarily dispatched by the killer. 

Why is Erika Foster still on the police force?

And more importantly why has Robert Bryndza sold over five million books?

I guess a lot of readers don’t care about stupid characters.


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