Triple Play

by Elizabeth Gunn

Thursday, September 6, 2001

Featured image for Triple Play

I’m reading this in aid of a new concept on a mailing list. The list usually reads single books and discusses them but it’s trying out the idea of reading a whole series at the rate of a book a month and discussing them.

This series didn’t really appeal to me at all at first glance though I didn’t give it a very long first glance. It’s a police procedural set near the twin cities of St Paul and Minneapolis. I was expecting something more cozy but the crime depicted in the first chapter doesn’t belong with that expectation.

[The rest of my comments on this book are drawn from the mailing list discussion and contain spoilers]

[On the characters]

I read this a couple of weeks ago and the characters have faded from my memory pretty fast but on the whole I thought the characters were thin but well drawn.

In common with book number one in many series I felt this book was an introduction. I quite liked Jake though I didn’t get a good handle on his character, but that’s quite good for a series because I’d like to know more about him and don’t feel that I’ve been given chapter and verse on his life and there’s nothing more to know.

I thought the author did a good job of introducing secondary characters with a minimum of fuss; I got the idea that there were various different people about without getting overpowered by too many characters. For example the trainee girl cop whose name I’ve forgotten: I knew enough about her to make her role in the finale believable but not enough that I got bored with hearing about her.

I think I prefer it when characters that you only meet twice in a book aren’t fleshed out too fully; sometimes characters can be overdone and they just seem like thick cardboard cutouts rather than real people. I thought Gunn introduced a lot of characters, especially Jake’s colleagues, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed by them all.

[On the plot]

No, I wasn’t particularly satisfied with the plot. I found the whole serial killer plot to be way too big for the book. In common with _Dreaming of the Bones_ I felt a little cheated by not seeing the connection to another teenagers disappearance though I think Gunn played a little fairer than Crombie. From now on I’m going to view any mention of a missing daughter in a book as a surefire pointer to the motive for murder ;-)

I found the plot a bit contrived, not totally realistic but not completely silly either. I think a lot of the shock of the murders was lost due to the book’s title. I was expecting three of *something* and the obvious something was ‘murder’ when nothing else turned up in a threesome early on in the book. I’m not sure whether the puzzle aspect of the message in the mutilations and photos was a strength or a weakness of the plot. On the one hand it seemed to be the sort of thing that belonged in a more cozy book and seemed a bit convoluted for a realistic series of murders, but on the other hand it was neatly explained and related to the motive for the killings. Although complicated murders like this don’t seem very true to life I thought that Gunn created Andy Dornoch as a revenge murderer with a valid reason for setting the scenes up as he did.

I think I was satisfied with the resolution. It wasn’t the sort of book to linger over and mull in your mind afterwards so I didn’t pick up on any silly coincidences or dumb things thrown in for effect in the finale. In summary I thought the plot was complete and well put together but that everything happened a little too fast and a little too neatly. I liked the sparsity with which many of the characters were drawn but I’d have liked a bit more meat on the plot.

[On setting, pacing, point of view etc.]

The setting could have been pretty much anywhere for me; any satellite town of any major city. I didn’t get a strong sense of what Rutherford itself was like. The most memorable idea of place I got from the book were the mentions of the spring after a cold Minnesota winter.

The book seemed too thin to me and the pacing did seem off. I don’t know if it’s justified but I felt the book was all bunched up towards the back. I think this is because the title led me to expect three deaths and I was subconciously expecting to get them out of the way and to then get into the guts of the story whereas the murders were evenly spread through the book. There seemed to be significant sections of the book where nothing much happened and Jake lay about in his fishing boat contemplating his navel to not much avail. There are characters who can get away with this - Sharon McCone could fly her plane for days whilst contemplating her navel and I’d be deeply engrossed and wouldn’t care at all - but Jake hasn’t earnt that from me yet.

I think Jake’s point of view was the major weak point in this book for me. He seemed a fairly run of the mill cop character. Interesting certainly, but not outstanding in any sense. I didn’t feel he had anything invested in the outcome of the case. Only at the very end did he actually face any danger and he was just investigating the case because it was his job. I know that that is how it works in the real world but I felt that the book would have been better if Jake had seemed a little more involved and a little less of a detached observer.

[On what i thought of this as a first book]

It came over to me as a ‘first in the series’ because of the sketchy background of the main character. Gunn left many things open about his past, I presume this is so that she can fill in the detail later. It also seemed to be an ‘author’s first book’ because I didn’t feel it did much to make me care about the characters or about the outcome of the case. I didn’t feel much of an emotional response to the victims. I’ve just looked on the web and it looks like this wasn’t her first novel though. As well as several non fiction books she’s written two books that sound like non mystery fiction.

I’d hope that the second in the series would bring me closer into the characters and evoke stronger emotions in me.


Overall I thought the book was pretty average. Whilst I enjoyed the book as a whole it wasn’t anything special. I think Jake’s voice needs developing, he wasn’t very memorable to me. Gunn has laid down some intriguing foundations about his mysterious origins and I think once we know more about him he’ll become a more memorable character. I felt the author almost wanted him to be nondescript in this book.

If this wasn’t a group read then I wouldn’t be rushing out to get my hands on _Par Four_