Social Responsibility

How much social responsibility is too much in a work of fiction?

My first requirement for a mystery is that it be entertaining. It also might be amusing, thought-provoking, chilling or profound, but it absolutely has to be entertaining. If I am looking for edification, I have other resources.

That said, I don’t mind when a well-written book teaches me something. There’s some marvelous historical fiction that both entertains and instructs.

But if the story reads like the characters were pasted onto a grid of the author’s cause of the moment, I’m out of there. The late revered Tony Hillerman fell into this trap in later life.

On the other hand, Betty Webb, whose Lena Jones series tackles polygamous cults, always makes the story come first. Now I hear Webb’s profile on Wikipedia has been tampered with in an ugly way. It has been suggested that her books have made enemies who harass her in assorted ways.

Recently I received publicity material for Iron River, a new book by T. Jefferson Parker.

According to the publicist, Iron River is about the illegal gun trade in which U.S. suppliers are selling weapons to Mexican drug cartels. Parker is described as "passionate about this social issue."

The publicist goes on to describe the depth of Parker’s research, and suggest media interviews "on this timely topic."

The rest of the publicity material talks briefly about the storyline, but also emphasizes that Iron River is "about [a] Real Place. Real Problem."

I don’t know how this approach is playing elsewhere, but it turns me off. The book feels too heavy to lift, much less read.

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