Readers have a right to expect that writers get it right

On Saturday, I started reading a new thriller that has gotten tons of buzz and even a starred review. Like many a book before it, it’s being compared to Cormac McCarthy.

I ended up putting the book down before I was even 50 pages into it. One of the main characters, the deputy sheriff (whom the jacket flap copy tells me straight up is a good guy) finds a car parked on a logging road. On a hunch and on his day off, he hikes up into the area he thinks the car's owner might have gone. That night he is awakened by the sound of a plane and watches two men send up a flare and the plane drop a bundle attached to a parachute. It’s cocaine (which he doesn’t know but could guess).

Holding his rifle, he confronts two men when they are loading the bags onto their horses, identifies himself as an officer. At no time do the bad guy display weapons. One of the men flees on horseback. The deputy sheriff shoots at him and misses. The other man also flees, and the deputy sheriff shoots at him and misses. Then he hits the second man in the back of the head with the rifle butt and immediately knocks him out cold, and ties him up.

What’s the problem with this scenario?

If you work in law enforcement and you shoot someone when there is no threat to life, you yourself risk going to prison. It’s an inappropriate use of force. As is, quite likely, the rifle butt to the head.

And take that rifle butt to the head, which the deputy sheriff had no doubt would have the desired effect. It is not nearly as easy as you might think to knock someone out (despite what you saw on virtually every episode of 24). The more likely result is you just make someone really, really mad. And if you do succeed, any blow that is hard enough to knock someone out is also hard enough to possibly cause some permanent brain damage.

If the deputy sheriff had thought about how what he was doing wasn’t right, or how he got caught up in the moment, then I could have bought it. As it is, it just seemed like someone basing a book on what he’d seen on TV or in movies.

When I asked an online board full of current and retired law enforcement, they not only agreed it was wrong - they also started asking questions about the cocaine coming in 50 pound bags like flour (not in their experience) and the feasibility of using horses to carry any load much over 200 pounds (plus a passenger).

I think you owe it to readers to get it right.



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Absolutely, and I probably would have quit reading, too. Reminds me of that movie, Barnyard. All the bulls had udders.

With so many people looking at these books/movies before they're loosed on the public, you'd think someone would realize the mistake.
If you work in an office and it matches what you've seen on TV and movies, maybe you wouldn't notice.
I totally agree! While there is room for using fictional license, authors must carry their research over to the story.

I did so much research about topics in my YA and I still have a small fear some things may have changed since my research. Oregon Death With Dignity, veterinary medicine, MS, etc...

As a writer of nonfiction and fiction, research is crucial for both.
The writer had a lot in there about horses, which I know nothing about. So I was reading along thinking, I am learning something about horses. It's a bonus. But when I got to the part I knew was wrong, then I didn't know if the horse stuff was right or wrong.

The thing was, he could have gotten around it by explaining why the guy was acting the way he was.

I don't mind a writer compressing all the exciting stuff - every writer does that.

I guess I was just disappointed because all the reviews said it was so realistic.
I felt the same way about METHLAND, the book about meth use/meth trafficking in Oelwein, Iowa. I lived in Oelwein for the first 11 years of my life. There are factual errors in the book: that "Iowa City is the largest city in Iowa, for instance (it's Des Moines), and that the University of Northern Iowa is in Cedar Rapids (it's in Cedar Falls)"
http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/51041562.html. And although Reding says in the interview I've linked to that he regrets the errors, I don't think that's quite enough. I think he had a responsibility to get facts like that--facts that could easily have been checked by him or his publisher--right. And for me, those errors detract from the book, and detract from the four years of work he put into it.
(Anonymous)
I think there was some validity to it, and my relatives who still live there (more than 10 in Oelwein, and more than a dozen in neighboring towns) would agree. There was a meth problem in that town (and there are still problems with it, though not to the extent that there used to be). The downturn of the economy in the 1980s in particular did not help (the main factory in town, where my dad and many of my friends' dads used to work, is now gone, and the railroad jobs that were prevalent in the 1970s disappeared, too).
My husband's home town is a shell of its former self. Many buildings on main street are boarded up and vacant. It is so sad to see.
(Anonymous) wrote:

Mar. 22nd, 2011 02:17 pm (UTC)
I think there was some validity to it, and my relatives who still live there (more than 10 in Oelwein, and more than a dozen in neighboring towns) would agree. There was a meth problem in that town (and there are still problems with it, though not to the extent that there used to be). The downturn of the economy in the 1980s in particular did not help (the main factory in town, where my dad and many of my friends' dads used to work, is now gone, and the railroad jobs that were prevalent in the 1970s disappeared, too).