Note: I'm primarily asking this question because while Surtsey, the original asker of the question didn't actually ask a thing (and instead copy-pasted an excerpt of a novel) I believe it's a worthwhile question to ask. With that in mind, let's begin.
Sometimes, tension, drama, or a twist can only be preserved by withholding certain information from the reader. This can be done via a variety of means, such as using a limited POV (where the drama/tension/twisted is experienced by both a character and the reader, as they both know as little as each other) or setting up a red herring, a form of misdirection. There are other kinds of misdirection, but too much of it, and a twist can be considered an 'Ass Pull', that is, pulled from a writer's arse.
A good example of this would be in M Night Shamaylan's Devil, in which several sinners are trapped in an elevator, dying one by one. It's obvious that it's the Devil doing this, but for an extra 'twist', it's revealed a random pickpocketing old lady previously killed was, in fact, the devil, despite there being no previous indication of this (or indeed, there being a need for any of those people to be the Devil considering he's a supernatural entity).
So, with this in mind, where is the line drawn between 'cheating' and 'fair play' with regards to misdirection? I personally have a few takes on the issue:
- Outright lying to the reader is a no-no. A POV character can come to an erroneous conclusion, but it must be honest as far as the POV character knows.
- Any information a POV character knows should not be arbitrarily hidden just to preserve tension. If the plot twist is just magically known all along by every in-universe, but not the reader, it reads as odd.
- Red herrings are legitimate, but should not be egregious. If every piece of evidence points to the red herring and none to the truth, even upon a re-reading, it's a poorly-constructed drama/mystery.
What do you lot think? Is there an objective line, and if so, where is it drawn?