What do Dan Brown’s Deception Point and Glenn Cooper’s Library of the Dead have in common? Both strain my ability to suspend disbelief beyond the breaking point. And, both for the same reason.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in 1817, noted that stories, or in his case Gothic poetry, had to have a sufficient semblance of mundane truth to allow people to believe in the supernatural elements in his ballads.
For exactly that reason, Brown and his possible literary heir, Cooper, have to make the mundane elements of their stories sound correct in order for their readers to accept the extraterrestrial fossils and supernatural library that are the keystones of their respective books.
In their books, it’s not the fantastic that fails to engage me, it’s their foolish handling of mundane details.
In Deception Point, Brown has a major American government operation taking place in Canadian territorial waters without the Canadian government noticing or objecting. Worse, in The Library of the Dead, Cooper has the British government, in the person of Winston Churchill no less, giving the most important archeological discovery of all time away to the American government because they couldn’t handle it in the aftermath of World War Two.
Say what? The Canadian government doesn’t know or care what happens in the Canadian Arctic? The British government of Bletchley Park code breakers and MI6 believe themselves less able to handle sensitive material than Americans? We are to believe that neither of these governments is either competent or patriotic? We Americans might sometimes be seen as ignorant about international affairs and arrogant about our own place on the world stage but surely we aren’t that ignorant or arrogant. Are we?
The sad part is that both of these canards could have been avoided with a few keystrokes. Deception Point could have been located in American waters off the coast of Alaska. The Library of the Dead could have been located in a country such as Italy that was occupied by Americans after World War Two. There was no need to fuck up my willing suspension of disbelief by disrespecting the competence of other industrialized countries.
In my own writing, I give my readers descriptions of women who are not only willing to suffer pain and humiliation, but seek it out. Such women exist, but are outside most people’s experience. I need my readers to suspend their disbelief just as surely as Dan Brown or Glenn Cooper. Unlike them, I try to be as accurate as possible about the mundane details of my settings, even to the extent of researching restaurant menus on their web sites before my characters sit down to a meal.
In more ways that one, I’m no Dan Brown.
I hope my readers are happy about that.