When I’m considering whether I enjoyed a book or not, one of the factors I think about is the ending, did it all get resolved satisfactorily?
Endings are key because of the amount of time we’ve asked the reader to invest in order to get to them. It doesn’t mean they always need to be happy, but they do need to be believable.
I’ve not often considered beginnings, often because if they’re not good then I don’t tend to read them, but if I were to stop and consider them for a moment, they’re not quite the opposite of endings.
There is no rule to beginnings, again, they can be happy or sad or thrilling – and they don’t always need to inform the ending. You don’t have to have a sad beginning to have a happy ending, and just because you’re having a sad ending, it doesn’t mean everyone should be laughing gaily at the beginning of the book.
A beginning is a promise to the reader.
This mystery I’m presenting to you will be resolved by the end of the book
This man grieving for his wife will have found some form of peace
This murder will be solved.
But as well as making promises about the content, it also makes a promise with regards to the quality of the book.
A strong beginning must deliver a strong ending, if it doesn’t the promise is broken and an unpleasant after taste can be left by even the best of books.
Which brings me to the newest one from Sophie Hannah – Did You See Melody?
I’ve not read any Sophie Hannah books before, but when this proof passed my desk, I thought I’d give it a go.
It does, indeed have a strong beginning. Cara Burrows has fled to a luxury resort, needing a break from her family, her home. Her problem, unknown to us, is big enough to warrant ransacking her savings account and just leaving in the middle of the night.
When she arrives at the spa, tired and needing sleep, a mistake by the receptionist sends her to the wrong room. A room, that she later learns, contains a girl who looks very much like Melody Chapa. Melody Chapa, whose parents are serving life sentences for her murder seven years previously.
Cara becomes obsessed with the case and with the help of another guest at the resort she begins to learn more and more about the mystery of Melody Chapa.
It’s a great mystery, one that certainly keeps the reader interested, but about a third of the way through, Cara starts to behave oddly. And not in a necessarily believable way.
It’s almost like she becomes a plot device, a viewpoint through which the reader can see the mystery. She uses full names of minor witnesses in the Melody case in casual conversations with other characters, and she later behaves in a way that doesn’t fit the character we were introduced to at the beginning.
And that’s before we find out the reason why she walked out on her family. A reason to which emptying the savings account and flying across the world, abandoning your family seems a little bit of an overreaction.
The book becomes more about the Melody Chapa case (which to be fair, is what is promised by the title) and less about Cara.
Speaking of… the resolution to the Melody case is deliciously twist-y and one that you won’t see coming, but you won’t be able to pick any holes in it either.
The problem with this book is that the beginning promises a book about Cara Burrows, and somewhere in the middle it shifts almost exclusively onto Melody.
Sophie Hannah delivers a strong ending and a strong beginning, but the middle kind of meanders a bit and means that the ending doesn’t seem to belong to the beginning, which is a shame because the central mystery itself is so well plotted.