The Librarian stepped around the corner of the bookshelf and froze. She raised her hands to her cheeks and screamed. Still, she couldn’t look away. Beaten, battered and ripped apart, it lay in pieces at her feet.
Clearly, the book was dead.
When the police arrived, the librarian pointed them to the gruesome scene. Two detectives approached the book, lying open on its spine. Its cover spread eagle. Black ink spilled off its earmarked pages and pooled on the carpet.
“Another discarded book,” Detective Barnes said, leaning down on one knee to get a closer look at the corpse.
“Like yesterday’s garbage.” The other detective, Noble, took a pen from his jacket and used it to close the book cover. “It was a mystery novel.”
Together, Barnes and Noble stood and walked toward the librarian. She cowered near the checkout counter, trembling.
“You hear about this kind of thing happening,” she said, looking up at Detective Barnes. “You just never think you’ll actually witness this kind of horror.”
“Just tell us what happened.” Barnes slipped a hand inside his jacket and pulled out a pen and note pad. He nodded toward the Librarian. She took a deep breath and looked back in the direction of the crime scene.
“Several people started the book.” Her voice was barely a whisper, as if she was frightened of what she might say. “Some would read a few chapters, others just a few pages, but the outcome was always the same: The readers would just lose interest, shut the book, and discard it.”
“And do you know why?”
She closed her eyes, scrunched her face. “The book was a murder mystery, but after a hundred pages, there was still no victim. No murder. No crime scene.”
“You mean the murder in the book didn’t occur within the first three chapters?”
“That is correct. And nobody knows exactly when the murder did occur because…” She stopped suddenly, sighed, and brought a hand to her face. It looked as if she might faint. “Because every reader gave up on the book before the mystery began.”
“Well, that’s crazy.” Barnes shut his note pad with a huff and dropped his pen. “The crime and the ensuing questions are what hook the reader. As with any fiction, but especially in a murder mystery, you want to do that as quickly as possible.”
Standing beside him, Noble nodded. “Mystery readers pick up a book for the blood, and they want it sooner, rather than later. They won’t wait a hundred pages for something to happen.”
The Librarian reached for Barnes, grasping his forearm and squeezed. “Wait,” she said. “It gets worse.”
The Detective shuddered. “You mean?”
“Yes.” The Librarian shrank back toward the edge of the counter and gripped it to support her weight. Her legs were wobbly. Her face flushed. Looking down at her feet, she spoke slowly, deliberately. “The beginning chapters were just pages of set-up and back story.”
Both detectives looked away in shame. There were some cases that were so ghastly, so incomprehensible, that it made their stomachs turn. Detective Barnes’ eyes burned, and he squinted to hold back the tears. “Readers are just sort of left in suspended animation, waiting for the murder to occur so they can participate in solving it. It’s the whole point of a murder mystery.”
“We’ve seen it a hundred times,” Noble said. “That book lived dangerously. It broke all the rules. It was bound to get discarded like that.”