Alexander McCall Smith

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Would you agree that the plot is more important than the characters in "No Place to Park" by Alexander McCall Smith? Why or why not? And in what ways is the story not a typical crime story?

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At the beginning of the story, a literary critic stands up at a writers' festival and complains that crime stories have become too predictable. They always include, he says, "compulsory autopsy scenes" and too much violence, and they are always about "Murder, murder, murder." He argues that crime stories have become too unrealistic, and challenges the writers to "write about more mundane offences ... something day-to-day, some commonplace low-level offence." One of the writers at the festival takes up the critic's challenge and tries to write a story that doesn't involve gore and murder, and which is about parking violations.

The story that then follows is, at least briefly, an untypical crime story, focused on the writer's research for his more "mundane" story. However, at the end of the story, it becomes very typical indeed. There is a murder, and although it is not described in detail, we can easily imagine how gory it might be. In large part then, this story is a typical crime story. It is untypical in that the protagonist of the story is the one who is murdered, and that the murder takes place at the end of the story. Usually the murder in a crime story takes place early in the story, so that the rest of the story can focus on trying to solve the murder. And usually it is not the protagonist of the story who is murdered.

As regards the plot and the characters of the story, I think it's difficult to say which is more important. The plot is very clever, in that the protagonist and victim is the one who, in the first half of the story, comes up with the idea that is then used, at the end of the story, for his own murder. The plot is also cleverly executed in that there are clues as to who committed the murder, but we are not given a definitive answer. The story ends with a cliff-hanger. We do not know for sure who the murderer was, and we do not know if he or she will get away with it.

However, the impact of the ending would not be as impactful if the reader did not care for and like the protagonist. Throughout the story we learn that the protagonist is a thoughtful and kind character. He is the only writer at the festival to take the critic's challenge seriously, and he shows his kindness when he expresses sympathy for the farmers that the parking officer happily exploits. We therefore feel sorry for the protagonist at the end of the story when he becomes the victim. If we did not care about or like this character, we would likely not care as much about his death. Thus, in terms of the impact of the story, I would perhaps argue that the characterization and the plot work together. One would not be as effective without the other.

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