The Christie novel that had the most influence on me as a reader, though, was none of these, but instead one in which she used the very conventions of the genre to hide the identity of the killer. Mystery's rules teach us to expect, nay, to rely on the fact, that the amateur detectives investigating a crime, the ones through whose eyes we witness the unraveling of the mystery, don't keep secrets from us. And they are never, ever involved in committing the actual crime itself. When an author breaks this convention—when one of the focalizing characters doesn't reveal all he or she knows, or, even more shockingly, turns out to be the very culprit for whom the other sleuths are searching—a reader can often feel shocked, even betrayed. Or she can learn from it, learn to take pleasure in the way an author has used the very rules the reader has internalized to pull the wool over her eyes.
Though not a commonplace in the mystery, authorial narrative deception occurs often enough that an avid mystery reader will not be taken completely by surprise to discover it popping up every now and then in a year's worth of reading. But such deception seems far more rare in the genre of the romance. Part of romance's appeal is its direct access to the ideas, emotions, and above all, the secrets of its hero and heroine, its promise that what the hero and heroine know, the reader knows, too. To read a romance which, in spite of granting us direct access to minds of both its hero and heroine, holds some important piece of information back, or which, through its conventions, leads us to expect one type of ending, while moving toward another, is a bit of a shock.
Carla Kelly's "deception" in Libby's London Merchant has more to do with an author's playing on the reader's expectation of romance's narrative conventions than with a character keeping secrets from the reader. Or at least playing with the narrative conventions in 2013. Since Libby was written in 1991, I wondered if my surprise at the book's ending was due to a deliberate attempt by Kelly to play with narrative conventions, or rather due to a shift in narrative romance conventions between the early 1990s and the early 2010's. Again, I don't want to give the surprise away, but for anyone who has read Kelly's book, I'd love to hear your opinion.
Can you think of other romance novels that do not just play with genre conventions and/or reader expectations, but do so in order to trick or deceive the reader? Do such books make you feel as if you as a reader have been betrayed? Or do such deceptions give you pleasure in experiencing the unexpected? If you were able to "get" the trick before it was revealed, do you feel more positively about the deception? If the author completely succeeded in surprising (or making a fool of) you, do you find yourself reacting negatively? Or does this, too, give you pleasure?
Next time on RNFF:
(if I can steal the third volume away from my daughter long enough to finish reading it between now and Tuesday...)