I originally posted this on Facebook, but thought I'd share it with you folks that hate Zuckerberg's monster.
There's a certain plotting device used in a lot of suspense novels that I find particularly annoying. I call it the "Pelican Brief conceit," since the Grisham novel used it rather notoriously.
It works like this: The plots follows the protagonist as s/he moves through the story. As with most suspense novels, the book uses a fairly close third person POV. We see what the protagonist sees and his reaction to it. We watch what he does. We even know some/most of his thoughts.
Until, that is, we come to the crucial moment when a great secret is revealed. Except it's not revealed to us (the readers). The protagonist reads the document, sees the murderer, or overhears the conversation, so HE knows. But it's like the cable went out (conveniently) for just that moment. The plot continues, again told from a close third person POV, as if nothing strange ever happened. But the author won't tell us what the character learned until much later in the book, when it can be revealed as part of the story's climax.
I find this annoying. For one thing, it places the author's mechanics front and center. It makes it obvious that we're reading a manufactured story, learning only what the writer wants us to know and when he wants us to know it. For another, it makes no narrative sense. The story follows the protagonist as a neutral, disembodied narrator – except when he's learning something important. At that point, the narrator turns as coy as a blushing maiden flirting with an older man.
This is a cheap way to gin up suspense. It's not playing fair with the reader to show us everything the character does and sees and hears, but hide from us some crucial secret. Don't tell us the mundane stuff if you're not going to tell us the important stuff. Either we should know what the character knows, or the story should be constructed so that we don't know anything (or what we know is false). That's a different kind of book, though.
What do you think? Have you ever noticed this? Or am I too nit-picky?
Several people commented on the original post, if you'd like to see their remarks.