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A Fish In The Desert

You never know what you may find on a walk through Desert Park. It’s a nice place to enjoy the scenery: Mesquite trees, Creosote bushes, Prickly Pear Cactus, Jack Rabbits, Quail, and . . . a Fish.

The fish was a nice size, a “Keeper” if you fish for food. The faded gold scales suggested this was a large goldfish.

Finding a fish on a desert trail is an unexpected surprise. Perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime surprise. Did you ever find a fish in the desert? Have you heard of anyone who did?

After applying Sherlock Holmesian deductive reasoning, the most plausible solution became apparent.

As in all mystery stories, the climax occurs at the end. Patience, please.Finding the fish reminded me that the element of surprise occurs frequently in works of fiction. You’re reading a promising story; the characters seem likable and believable; the plot holds your attention, and the author is treating you as an intelligent adult. Then without warning, she confronts you with something totally unexpected. Something that defies your expectations. A fish in the desert.Authors use a variety of devices to create surprise. For example, the character who turns out not to be who they appear to be. Frank Baum famously used this as an element of surprise in The Wizard of Oz. Hyped as the All-Powerful Oz, he turns out to be an ordinary man from Omaha, Nebraska, blown to Oz in a hot air balloon.

The unreliable narrator writing method – what he says is not what he does – can cause the reader to misinterpret the story with surprising results.

Misfortune is often used to surprise the reader. The character, or characters move through an ordinary experience when, surprise! Catastrophe strikes. Introducing an unexpected incident of calamitous bad luck into her terrific historical novel, “The Rose Code,” Kate Quinn uses accidental death and implied betrayal that sneaks up on the reader, and alters the relationship of her three main characters.

Surprise is the bread and butter of mysteries. If an ending doesn’t surprise the reader, she feels cheated, because she figured out the identity of the killer by chapter five. As long as the mystery writer plays fair with the reader, and doesn’t invent something implausible to solve the crime, the surprise will be welcomed.

We return to the baffling incident of the fish in the desert. The trail leads the hiker near the 8th green of a golf course. A large pond guards the green. From personal observation during several rounds of golf, I have observed that the water is inhabited by scores of goldfish and many of my golf balls. During a hike two days before finding the fish, I watched a Great Blue Heron, itself an oddity in the desert, land on a branch of a tree near the pond. Based on elementary observation and a basic knowledge of the eating habits of herons, the most likely solution is that the heron speared the fish in the pond and while flying off to feed its young with the large fish in its beak, attempted to reposition the fish in a more secure position and dropped the meal.

As Sherlock Holmes famously said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” The Sign of Four

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