A friend who lives in Arizona recently recommended the David Mapstone series by Jon Talton. Because I am reading mysteries as a way to study the craft of writing, this will be more of a discussion of writing techniques than a general review.
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Let’s start with Camelback Falls, although it is the second in the David Mapstone Mystery series.
Main character David Mapstone began his career working in the sheriff’s department of Maricopa County, Arizona. After a detour to train as a historian, he found himself back in the sheriff’s department. When the newly elected sheriff who has been his mentor is shot, Mapstone must find out who did it and hopefully clear his mentor’s name.
The first thing I noticed when reading was the rhythm of Talton’s words. Even though he sets his stories in the Sonoran desert, the cadence reminds me of the uneven staccato of the rain on pavement. I have to admit it took me a couple of pages to adjust to his voice after having just read the slowly ambling prose of Elizabeth George. Once familiar with it, however, the driving beat was compelling.
Many mystery authors write using a third person point of view, but Talton writes in the first person. The distinct advantage of first person is that there are no confusing shifts in voice or perspective. It can be limiting, however, because it only tells one person’s story. It also can be difficult to show action because the main character must always be involved. Talton adroitly overcomes the limitations by adding certain characters with a wider perspective of events and by moving Mapstone around to follow the action (even though as acting sheriff realistically he might have been trapped in his office). Kudos to Talton, because that is hard to pull off in a mystery.
One intriguing pattern in this novel was that most of the male characters tended to be either mentors or adversaries. Few men were neutral or friends. As Mapstone interviews the women characters, on the other hand, they impart many of the clues to that help wrap up the mystery. I wonder whether the choice of helpful females was a conscious decision as a way to define Mapstone’s character or an unconscious choice by Talton. Because he is an experienced journalist, I suspect the former.
In any case, Camelback Falls is a enjoyable mystery to read, and delving more deeply, an informative case study of the writing process.
Have you read any of the David Mapstone mysteries? What did you think?