Point No Point is a “Claire Watkins Mystery” written by Mary Logue. It is the latest in a series of mysteries set in the Lake Pepin area, an area I know very well, since I live near by. The story was disappointing, the writing as illusory as the non-existent point referred to in the title. “Up ahead she saw Point No Point, an optical illusion…a place in the river where the far bank appeared to be a wooded point jutting out into the water at a sharp bend… There was no point, just a curve in the river. Point No Point was not a point but only a slight bulge on the shores of Lake Pepin, part of this twenty-mile section of the Mississippi River. It was a point that wasn’t a point in a lake that wasn’t a lake but a river.”
I don’t like to criticize local writers, figuring some day they might return the unfavorable favor, but I simply can’t let this written travesty go unrecognized. I haven’t read anything else Logue has written; she is a poet and a writer of young adult fiction as well as this series of adult mysteries, and I am hesitant to do so, given the poor writing in this book.
My objections to the writing are simple. The plot is unbelievably predictable, and thin. The action is lackadaisical and unconvincing. The description is, well there is no description. The characters are one dimensional and tired. In fact I would say the writing in general is superficial, as illusory as the geographical point in the title.
The story begins with a floating dead body discovered just south of the nonexistent point. Claire Watkins, chief investigator for the Pepin County Sheriffs’ Department is sent to recover the body and solve the mystery surrounding its appearance in the river. From that point on the story makes a meandering path through Watkins family life, her menopausal onset, the lives of her fellow law enforcement officers and a few key local characters. Story lines are picked up, dropped, and picked up again with a randomness that indicates more uncertainty on the part of the author- where is this story going- than the characters asked to perform their parts in the paper thin plot.
The narrator of this story has the advantage of knowing the thoughts and feelings of all the characters, with the exception of the dead guy in the river. This omniscience proves tedious, as we as readers are told over and over how each of the characters is reacting to the story as it unfolds. Instead of narrating the actions taken by various characters, our narrator relies on internal monologues to move the story forward as well create relationships between the characters and create a backstory.
There is no description of geographical places in the book. There are no details given as to where Watkins or her fellow characters may live, work, sleep or eat. Mention is made of various landmarks in the area, but no description is given. Even Point No Point is only vaguely explained. The characters themselves are never physically described beyond hair color and age. The entire story is told in dialogue and brief spits of expository writing which is lacking any factual details. One would think that a poet would fill her story with lyrical descriptions of the scenery, the spaces and the people that fill her story. One would think, one would not get.
At first I was willing to go along with the lack of description and the lackluster characters. After all this is the fifth book in the series and most readers would probably know all about Watkins and her compatriots from previous stories. But for those of us, new to the series, there is a serious lack of detail and backstory. I think of other serial stories and how in each book in the series the characters are reintroduced with full physical description and personal history summary.
I was also willing to allow for the flimsy plot, after all this is a local series, and the typical reader would be reading as much for the mention of landmarks and familiar place names as for the plot. I acknowledge my own momentary frisson of recognition when a place I knew was mentioned in the story. The moment was fleeting; I really wanted more than a shout out of a name, I wanted a description that gave me an indication of the author’s relationship with that specific place. Logue admits to owning a house in Pepin county for twenty years, yet seems incapable of giving us any specifics about the countryside. Change the place names and this story could be located in any rural area where there is a river near by. That was disappointing. Why bother with a real location if you aren’t going to take advantage of the uniqueness of that particular place.
What finally tipped the scales on this story was the simplistic manner in which it was written. Logue is also the publisher of several books for children. This is apparent in this adult fiction where the language is definitely geared for those with a sixth grade education. That explains the continuous explanation of the plot and the character motivations. It explains the somewhat preachy spell it all out for the reader tone of the story. It doesn’t explain the author’s disdain for the intellectual abilities of her readers.
In the end, I did read the entire book. I finished the entire story in less than three hours. I read it with the hope that it would improve as it progressed. This was not the case. I finished the book with the feeling that Mary Logue deliberately set out to write another superficial mystery with a local setting which would be purchased by local readers and she really didn’t care about the quality of the story or the writing. This was first and foremost a commercial project, not a literary endeavor. I am sorry for that. I am sorry for the superficial nature of the entire book- plot, character, setting and unfortunately writer.
I wouldn’t bother reading this book. I only review it because I can’t see letting anyone else waste their time or money on such a cheap illusion. It was a story that wasn’t a story in a book that wasn’t a book but a blatant mercenary sequel. Point No Point indeed.