I’m aware that Fatal Infraction, book #4 in the Mike Stoneman Thriller series, touches on some powerful themes. Quarterback Jimmy Rydell, whose murder is what Mike and Jason Dickson are investigating, was a controversial figure because he took a knee during the national anthem as a protest for social justice and against police brutality. That did not make him popular, with a certain segment of the fan base, and with some of his teammates. Is it possible that pure racism was the motivation for his murder? One particular teammate, Nate Bedford, seems to be a prime suspect, after he threatened to kill Jimmy because Jimmy slept with Nate’s girlfriend. But there are other people with motive. Mike and Jason deal with the specter of racism throughout the book, which gives Jason a chance to school his more senior partner in the racism around him.
The story also features a female sports reporter, Kristi Olson, who does her job like a true professional, despite the sexual harassment thrown at her by players and fans. The cast of characters also includes a Black female detective who deals with sexist comments, and gives Mike an opportunity to see whether he can be a active intervenor and not just a bystander. Will he step up?
These are serious themes woven into the murder mystery. Such themes are not foreign to the Mike Stoneman series, but here they are more front-and-center than in any of the prior three books. I realize that, and I know that there is a chance that I’ll alienate some readers, or generate controversy. If that sparks some discussion, then I’m all for it. I believe that the themes will attract more readers than they will deter.
I was not prepared for the email I recently received from a volunteer proofreader. I signed up for a proofreading program through a great organization called Authors XP, which provides many services for independent authors. One of AXP’s best programs is called “typokillers.” In this program, for a modest fee, the group will solicit volunteers to read a manuscript and point out all the copy errors — typos, grammar errors, punctuation errors, and even more substantive problems with the text. It’s like having a half-dozen editors all working together to clean up a manuscript and try to make it as error-free as possible. I got 17 volunteers who wanted to read the new book as a typokiller. (The volunteers get to read books for free.) I got back wonderful notes from 8 readers. Two others notified me that they could not complete their reads due to personal issues. The seven others were no-shows, but that’s OK. I got plenty of notes, and I understand that sometimes you volunteer and then things get in the way. But one of the no-shows recently sent me a note.
She told me that she couldn’t finish the book right now. Not because she was too busy — because she was too emotional. The book’s themes were intense enough that she was overcome and could not keep reading. It wasn’t that the story wasn’t good. It was too good, in the sense that it was too intense for her at this time in her life. I have no other details, and I don’t know what else is happening for her. But it is a wake-up call to me that there will be some people who will react to this book in ways that I cannot predict. I’m not unhappy to miss out on the copy editing notes. I’m not unhappy that this reader was emotionally touched by the story. I want readers to be forced to think about the issues while they enjoy the mystery. If the book generates that kind of emotional reaction, then as an author I have done my job. I hope this reader has the chance to finish the book later and that the story proves to be both thought-provoking and entertaining. I also hope that some readers who are not as sensitive to the issues going in will be forced to think about them and be influenced to evaluate their own actions. If that happens, then I’ll feel satisfied, even if it generates some 2-star reviews from readers who think the story is too “political” and they don’t appreciate being subjected to serious issues when they wanted escapist fiction.
I guess I need to brace myself.