Mary Jo Putney


A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about “Literary Deal-Breakers”–plot elements or types of characters or settings that make one not try a book, not matter how well-recommended, or put a book down unfinished. On a more positive note, I though I’d talk about “Literary Deal-Makers”–types of stories or characters or settings that will cause one to actively seek out a book.

I know there are certain story elements that appeal to me across genres. I’ve always loved stories about married couples whether in mysteries, romances, classics, historical fiction, or plays. The Scarlet Pimpernel, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Spiral Path, The Real Thing, Laurie King’s Mary Russell series, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Busman’s Honeymoon, Len Deighton’s Bernard Samson books, An Ideal Husband. Modern setting or historical, happy ending, tragic ending, or something in between. If I hear a book or play or movie described as an examination of a marriage, I’m likely to seek it out.

I also like stories about ex-spouses or lovers reuniting. The Philadelphia Story. Persuasion. Much Ado About Nothing. Bath Tange. Raiders of the Lost Ark.

And I’ve always had a weakness for spy stories. Whether it’s the moral ambiguity of John Le Carré or Len Deighton, an espionage-laced historical romance like Mary Jo Putney’s Petals on the Wind, a play filled with double-crosses like Tom Stoppard’s Hapgood, or a television series like Spooks/MI-5, if I hear “spies” or “espionage,” my attention is caught.

It’s not surprising that these interests mesh in the Charles & Mélanie books. They also continue to influence the type of books (and movies, plays, and tv shows) I seek out.

What about you? What type of plot premise or character or setting makes you seek out a book? Do your “deal-makers” work across genres and eras?

Be sure to check out the Fraser Correspondence. I’ve just posted a letter from Simon Tanner to his actress friend Cecily Summers, which catches up on what happens with Manon after Cecily helps her escape the Tavistock Theatre early in Beneath a Silent Moon.

It’s so great when readers comment on blog posts and raise new issues and perspectives. In the discussion of last week’s post on Friends & Lovers, Sharon brought up the topic of ex-lovers who remain friends, such as Mélanie and Raoul. “While I love stories in which lovers are the best of friends, I feel it more fascinating and challenging reading about former lovers who remain friends, as in the case of Mélanie & Raoul. Ever since I started visiting your blog, I’ve always felt ambivalent reading the correspondence between Mélanie & Raoul: on the one hand I want to know more about their connection, and the way it changed every step of the way in Mélanie’s marriage to Charles, yet at the same time I also feel I don’t want to know much more about them. It’s somewhat unsettling.”

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In the comments to last week’s post (and thanks, everyone, for the great discussion!), Cate mentioned that while she had come to have more of an affinity with Mélanie on rereads, “I’m still not sure I would trust her as a friend, but I probably wouldn’t have a choice. I’d find her too interesting not to spend time with her, if she would deign to allow me.”

My first reaction was to be surprised and think “that’s interesting, I’d certainly trust Mélanie as a friend.” Then I re-examined it, because truth to tell it’s a question I’d never really considered. Would I trust her? Probably, because she’s very charming, and I suspect I’d never know what was going on in her head or what she really up to :-). Would I be wise to trust her? More difficult to answer. Mélanie’s very loyal. But as Cate said “She’s loyal, but she, like everyone, has a hierarchy of loyalties and she’s not likely to be changed.” And she can be quite ruthless when she makes up her mind what she needs to do.

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