‘Caveat Emptor’ by Joan Hess

Caveat Emptor by Joan Hess, 1990

The magic trick:

A resolution that is mostly left implied

Had to go back to Joan Hess’s Arkansas this week for another excellent mystery. I’d actually say this is the best American mystery story of the 20th century that I’ve read. I haven’t read all that many, so it’s not that strong a statement. But still.

Hess does such a great job of fooling her readers. Here, you not only can’t guess which way the story is going to go, it’s a struggle to figure out where it has gone.

The plot peaks with a stunning twist near the end. But this isn’t Hercule Poirot gathering all the story’s characters in a room and spending the next 30 pages explaining the conclusion in great detail. The resolution here is left mostly implied; not fully explained. So the reader finishes the story and is left scrambling to figure out if what we thought just happened really just happened.

And that’s quite a trick on Hess’s part.

The selection:

“It’ll work out, I said soothingly, although I had my doubts. My daughter ad needed food stamps and welfare and everything else she could get until she’d found a job. I would have helped her out, but all I had were my monthly disability checks.

I made her a bed on the sofa, then sat and gazed out my bedroom window at the Sticklemann place, wondering just how much Jeremiah (“Call me ‘Jem’”) Wafford had told this nice young woman.

Not nearly enough, I suspected.

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