I was away in Oxfordshire over the weekend and we stayed with someone who mentioned that he can find it frustrating if books contain plenty of characters. This is an observation I’ve heard on a number of occasions, often from very busy people who only have time to read books in short segments, and who therefore can easily lose track of who is who. I find the same problem myself from time to time.
When I returned home, I had the pleasure of finding a very generous review of The Arsenic Labyrinth on that splendid blog Crime Scraps (blog supreme Uriah occasionally sets a fiendish crime quiz – well worth looking out for.) Uriah made a comparable point about the complexity of the character relationships, and it made me wonder – yet again – whether it would be a good idea to include character lists at the start of my books.
This device was used quite often in the past (Christianna Brand and Ngaio Marsh both employed it, for instance.) In the classic reprints published by that excellent small American press, Rue Morgue Press, there are generally character lists. I find these rather helpful, but I do know that some readers are instinctively sceptical about books which start off with a cast of characters. Someone once told me that they wouldn’t read such a book, because they would infer that the writer hadn’t taken enough care to delineate the characters in a memorable fashion. A comment that deterred me from including a cast list, I must admit.
Incidentally, I should mention a clever mystery by Francis Beeding, The Norwich Victims. This went further by including photographs of the main characters – with accompanying red herring! Most ingenious, and it did make me wonder if there have been cast lists which contain clues or red herrings.
Anyway, I would be interested in the views of readers of this blog on casts of characters. Is there a revival of interest in having a cast list, would you say? Or is it to be seen as an admission of failure on the part of the author?