In an article in Mystery Scene magazine #122 (not available online), Marcia Muller, creator of the Sharon McCone mysteries, explains that when in doubt, have a man come through a door with gun control in his hand:
“Every now and then I like to sneak in a little message about social issues and hope that the readers pick up on it. It’s funny, but readers will pick up on it if it is something they believe in, and if it is not something they believe in, they don’t even see it. So I am not influencing anyone. The current book I am working on is about gun control and I think the gun people will just ignore that part,” said Muller.
Well, no. John Nolte and the crowd at Big Hollywood call this a sucker punch. You’re reading a book and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a blatant political message that jars you from the story. In most cases, these sucker punches lean to the left, like illuminating readers on the importance of gun control.
Ms. Muller is mistaken when she thinks that people that disagree with the important PSA in the middle of the narrative don’t notice it. They notice it, and they stop buying the books.
Which explains why I personally got recent books from John Sandford and Robert B. Parker from the library when I bother to get the new titles at all: because sometime after 2000, these authors started making sure that the bad guys were conservatives and/or religious characters. Suddenly, the throwaway asides were insulting the president. The general disappointment with the system and the idyllic past that was lost morphed into anger at one party in particular.
I’ve not read any of Ms. Muller’s works to know how subtle her “social messages” are, but I bet they’re received more clearly by the people too unsophisticated to believe as she does than she thinks.
Personally, as a writer, I think it’s foolish to gamble with social messages that might alienate almost 50% of the country. But what do I know? I’m not influencing anyone, either.