If this were a whodunit, it would be titled, “The Mystery of the Disappearing Chapter.” It involves a chapter of my book The Doll with the Sad Face, which somehow was not included in the published novel. I first became aware of this at a book club discussion of Doll at McGaffer’s.
The newly-formed McGaffer’s Book Club had made Doll their first selection and they invited me to join the discussion. As they talked about the book, I had the sinking feeling that some plot elements were missing. I frantically paged through a copy of the book and couldn’t find one of the chapters.
The next day, I found the missing chapter on my computer and printed it. I’m not comparing this to finding the Dead Sea Scrolls. It may be more like discovering “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults.” I notified the publisher that a 12-page chapter was missing. She felt terrible and offered to re-insert the chapter and re-publish the book. I appreciated her offer but had to think about it.
The chapter had been one of my favorites because it described an action-packed day of detective work. My most enjoyable workdays were when I visited a variety of neighborhoods and saw incredible contrasts. There were days when I traveled from Englewood to Lake Forest, with maybe a stop in Mount Prospect.
In the missing chapter, I start out on the West Side to find a witness and end up in the south suburbs serving a foreclosure on the owner of a mansion. The homeowner is drunk, profane and racist. The police are called to break-up the altercation. It’s the only chapter that contains profanity, so it changed my book’s rating from PG-13 to R. Now, I knew why my 93-year-old mother-in-law wasn’t offended by the book’s language.
The most remarkable fact about the missing chapter was that none of the book club members had noticed it wasn’t there. The chapter doesn’t really advance the narrative. It’s simply more adventures of family man private detective Mike Sullivan. I realized leaving it out may have been a blessing. After all, “less is more” when it comes to writing.
The book club members, though, had found other mistakes in the book that were jarring. Like when a character’s name changes for no apparent reason. Or a character that’s supposed to be dead makes an unplanned appearance. Mistakes with names are not uncommon in manuscripts. One author named his main character Jane but it somehow changed to June by the end of the book.
My mistakes resulted from some last-second name changes I made and they are inexcusable. The book club members also found a number of typos. This is becoming increasingly common in books. I find typos in bestsellers from major publishing houses.
Rather than reinserting the missing chapter, I asked the publisher to fix the other mistakes and republish the novel. She did so and now the book doesn’t contain the glaring errors that prompted a retired librarian to write me a personal letter detailing them.
On Friday, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m., I will do a book signing for The Doll with the Sad Face at Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore. As part of my presentation, I will read from the missing chapter. You couldn’t ask for a better setting, a history/mystery bookstore, where a mystery is revealed. If the response from the audience is favorable, I may have the chapter restored.
In the meantime, the next selection of the McGaffer’s Book Club is going to be Murder in the Summer of Love and I’m assuming all the chapters will be intact.