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Literary Glance: Golden Prey by John Sandford

May 9, 2017

Beginning a book is easy, but…

With so many books available today, it’s tough to choose which ones to read and what to finish.  A discriminating reader doesn’t want to waste time with the wrong book, and it doesn’t take much to set off a warning that sends us to other books.

While sampling the bestselling mystery novel Golden Prey by John Sandford, I got thrown off by a minor detail in the opening scene:

The flagstones underfoot were cool but dry; not much rain this year.  The moon was up high and bright over the garden wall, and he could hear, faintly, from well off in the distance, the stuttering midnight sound of Rihanna singing “Work.”  He opened the shed door, turned on the light, sat down in the office chair, fired up the joint, and looked at the guitar he was building.

The paragraph is fairly bland with adjectives like cool, dry, high, and bright, which is typical for a thriller.  But then the author mentions Rihanna and her song “Work.”  I’m over 50 years old, and the only reason I know anything about Rihanna and “Work” is because I have two daughters, one of which plays a bunch of pop music, so I know a bunch of today’s references that I probably shouldn’t know.

If I didn’t have kids, I might not have known who Rihanna is and I would have been confused.  Who is this Rihanna and why is she singing faintly “from well off in the distance”?  And why isn’t this singing character ever mentioned again in the chapter?

Plus, I think this song is kind of annoying, and once the author mentioned it, the tune got stuck in my head, which ticked me off and kept me from wanting to read further.  I didn’t want to blame the book, though.  It wasn’t Garvin Poole’s fault that somebody else was listening to Rihanna.  Since Garvin Poole is the character in the first scene, there’s a strong possibility that he’s about to get killed off.  I don’t want to criticize a guy just before he gets killed off in the murder mystery.

Either that, or Garvin Poole is the villain.  If he’s the villain, then I have no sympathy if he has to tolerate annoying music in the background.

Just so you know, it’s not just Rihanna.  Almost every song from today is annoying.  Before I go into an old fart rant about how today’s music is horrible, I’ll remember that most stuff played on the radio in the 1970s was pretty bad too.  The cool classic rock that we remember fondly often wasn’t played on the top 40 stations, so kids back then listened to pop schlock too.  And it’s almost all been forgotten.

I’m pretty sure that Rihanna’s music will be forgotten in 30 years.  That’s not meant as an insult.  Most pop culture disappears quickly.  And the only reason I mention it is because if people decide to read Golden Prey 30 years from now, they might be confused about who Rihanna is and why she’s singing “from well off in the distance.”  That’s the danger of putting a pop culture reference in a novel.

People might actually read Golden Prey in 30 years.  I remember reading a couple Prey novels in the early 1990s.  That was almost 30 years ago.  I had no idea at the time it was going to be such a long series.  Maybe Sandford will still be writing mysteries 30 years from now too.

I’m not a published author and I don’t know much about publishing, but if I’d be careful about which pop culture references I put in my books.  I wouldn’t want to make my book feel outdated after just a few years.  Maybe instead of saying Rihanna, the author could have mentioned the character hearing a pop song faintly “from well off in the distance.”

Yeah, that’s what I’d do.  But I’m not a published author.


What do you think?  Does it throw you off as a reader to see a pop culture reference in a novel?  As a writer, would you put a current pop culture reference in your stories?

  1. Sandford is high on my list of favorite authors. Some of his novels are more memorable than others but all are fair game when found on the used racks here and there. I’ve even, “gasp”, bought a few new ones now that Amazon has made it so painless. The song reference does not bother me. I’ve grown accustomed to his twists and turns. Strap in and let his words pull you along. A Sanford novel has these moments and tends to dip you into the egg wash, roll you in corn meal then dangle you a moment for you to ponder just before dropping you into the hot oil.

  2. I’ve been following Sanford since his first, and just finished reading “Extreme Prey”. His stuff never gets old, far as I’m concerned!

  3. Well I now too have Rihanna stuck in my head….

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