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The Writing Class by Jincy Willett

I've always liked stories about writers, and mysteries about writers even more; The Cat Who... series is essentially about a writer, and there's always Murder, She Wrote and Castle, two favorite television series. There's something about the inner mind of a writer that I think lends itself well to mystery, so The Writing Class by Jincy Willett tempted to me when I saw it in the bookstore, so much so that I went and picked it up a few weeks after I initially spotted it.

Amy Gallup, the book's protagonist, is a writer who reached her peak in her twenties and now is now looking down the cold barrel of the last twenty years of her life knowing that she will spend them doing what she is doing now: teaching extension writing courses to hopeful writers. This class, though, is better than the last few, and after a few sessions, they bond. Amy looks forward to a good semester, or so she thinks.

Because that's when the strange things start happening, things like midnight phone calls, cruel pranks, crude drawings, and a trick that nearly scares a class member half to death. It scares Amy enough that she starts looking suspiciously at the members of her class -- from doctor to graduate student, reporter to schoolmarm, professor to drifting child star -- and wondering which of them might be the so-called "Sniper", even as they, as a group, laugh it off.

At least, until one of them dies, and the writing class becomes less about writing and more about catching a killer.

Willett has a knack for characters, because all of her characters have some sort of glimmer, some sort of sparkle that translates from what is clearly her mental picture onto the page. All the characters had something unique and likable about them, and even though I definitely had characters I liked better than others -- Carla, Chuck, and Marvy were favorites -- I thought all of them felt very realistic. Amy, too, successfully straddled that fine line between a mouthpiece for the author and a truly rounded-out character, and I enjoyed her blog and her inner monologue a lot.

The style was very readable. I sped through it and only once or twice did I feel bogged down by Willett's writing. The hardest parts to swallow were the parts written in the Sniper's voice; I didn't think that was nearly as authentic as the rest of the writing.

That said, I feel like Willett tried to do a bit too much, throwing exposition in almost at random. Amy's relationship with her first husband, however touching, seemed to pop up at the most illogical times, and the fondness she feels for him -- a man we discover was gay and who she married to save him from the Vietnam Draft --  seemed forced at times. The twist of what exactly had happened between she and her second husband was meant to be sympathetic but instead just fell absolutely flat. Too close to the end and without any real affect on the plot, it appeared out of nowhere and actually choked my ability to sympathize with Amy. It didn't feel believable.

Neither did the Sniper's motivations for her actions, but that belongs in a much longer entry.

It was an enjoyable, light read but I think for being a book about these induviduals becoming good writers, it lacked some of the weight that I enjoy in my mysteries. Definitely not something I'll be rereading, but at least fun while it lasted.


the forest-dweller

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