The Mystery Surrounding ‘The Sand Men’
Before the incredible review for ‘The Sand Men’ in Starburst came in, a pricey new magazine called Crime Scene reviewed it, and for the most part was a rave, with one cavil; a worry from reviewer David Bradley that it has ‘no clear ending’. Personally, I think it has a very clear ending – I’ve just chosen not to spell it out in huge black and white letters.
It was important to me that the reader should be able to make up her or his mind about the protagonist and the situation, both of which are clearly delineated. What’s very deliberately not spelled out is just how much of the heroine’s theory is to be believed, because ‘The Sand Men’ is a story with two mysteries, one inside the other, and the main one is clearly resolved while the minor one is not.
When I wrote the book I laid out a huge graph in my living room which showed everything that happens in the book, some questionable things that may have happened and one or two things that clearly don’t happen. I even put the clue to the truth in the book’s title.
To properly see inside the strange world of ex-pats living in a city like Dubai, you have to start thinking like an outsider looking in and getting paranoid. The thing that tipped me off to the realisation that Mr Bradley didn’t quite get the book was that he called the heroine ‘trustworthy’ when she is clearly anything but. That’s absolutely fine, because he’s a crime reviewer. Luckily for me the excellent Solaris, who are publishing the book, allow me the headway to explore a more experimental style of writing. I did puzzle about what it was doing in a crime magazine, as I think of it more as SF, and an homage to JG Ballard. The reviewer said its images stuck in the mind long after the book had been returned to the shelf, which was very nice of him.
This made me think about other novels. Should thrillers always be unambiguous? Should everything be tied up in a neat bow at the end? What if you have an unreliable narrator? What if there are further mysteries to resolve? How can you ever know the exact truth?
So I’d like to know; are there any thrillers in which the full story is not neatly resolved? The most obvious one I can think of is ‘Snowdrops’ by AD Miller, in which it is hard to see whether a crime as been committed at all. It’s a brilliant read, and remains the only thing Miller has written, to my knowledge.
All suggestions to the shouty saloon bar that is our forum, below.