aprilhenry (aprilhenry) wrote,

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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Tags: mistakes were made, research, writing

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