Agatha Christie’s family and fans are up in arms over Wikipedia’s decision to reveal the ending‚ and the murderer‚ of Christie’sThe Mousetrap, the world’s longest running play. For 58 years, London audiences have been asked at the end of every performance not to reveal the ending, a request apparently kept until now. A British newspaper, The Independent, reports that the online encyclopedia’s policy regarding this matter has been debated among approved Wikipedia committee members. One spokesman is quoted: “Our purpose is to collect and report notable knowledge…. Asking Wikipedia not to reveal the identity of the murderer is like asking a library to remove copies of The Mousetrap book from shelves because someone could just go and read the end.” Another committee member disagreed, arguing that the revelation “breaches an oral contract between the actors and the audience….Given the importance of Wikipedia on the internet, I believe that they have a duty to protect this contract, as its breach is completely disrespectful of an old and well-kept tradition.”
This monsoon in a mousetrap got me thinking about the unwritten first commandment of fiction book reviewing: thou shalt not spoil a reader’s potential enjoyment by revealing a book’s ending in your review. As I recently discovered with my reviews for Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May off the Rails and Dennis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile (in the September 15 issue of LJ), this rule gets tricky with sequels and series titles in which the plot turns of previous books are key elements of the novel under review. How do you write about such a book without either being too vague or including too many plot spoilers?
Fowler’s eighth title about two elderly London detectives opens immediately where Bryant and May on the Loose left off. SPOILER ALERT! That cliff-hanger of an ending‚ the murder of a police office and the killer’s escape‚ had shocked me, and I struggled with how much to reveal in my review for the new book. I decided I couldn’t omit discussing the key event that propels Bryant & May off the Rails, but I chose not to identify the murdered officer, hoping new readers of Bryant and May on the Loose will still be surprised.
Likewise, Lehane’s new novel is a sequel to his acclaimed Gone, Baby, Gone, and picks up the action 12 years after Boston PI Patrick Kenzie (SPOILER ALERT!) returned a kidnapped child to her neglectful mother. As Patrick’s guilt (he knows he was legally right but morally wrong in his actions) is a driving force in Moonlight Mile, the haunting conclusion of the preceding book cannot be ignored in any review.
The issue of spoilers also came up with last week’s release of Mockingjay, Susanne Collins’s highly anticipated conclusion to her” Hunger Games” YA trilogy. LJ Book Review Managing Editor Anna Katterjohn found it difficult to write the review for this week’s LJXpress newsletter (sign up here) without giving too much plot away, and the survey of other Mockingjay reviews by the Baltimore Sun‘s Read Street blog was spoiler-free.
Of course, some readers do enjoy spoilers, and maybe Wikipedia was right to reveal the ending ofThe Mousetrap in its quest to collect and report on all notable knowledge. But I’m curious. Do any print encyclopedias identify Christie’s country-house murderer? The first three librarians who email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the answer will get a free advance reader’s copy of Dennis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile.