Old and new
I received three off-blog letters about the John D. post the other night. Two of the people were in their Thirties and felt that he was a slow read. And one was in his Fifties and thought he read just fine.
I make a point of their ages because I think it's an important consideration. Folks from age forty-five and up were raised in a very different culture from those who came after. Happy News was inaguarated in 1968. The dictum there was that people wouldn't sit still for any TV news story longer than sixty seconds. Anchors also began their inane blabbing to on-air subordinates. Ted Baxter reigned.
Movies changed, too. Action flicks, riding the back of spaghetti westerns, were as much spectacles as stories. The movie Help influenced films, too. Fast cuts, disjointed narrative lines, images for images' sake.
If you grew up under the influence of all this (and many many other changes in popular culture) I can see why John D might read slow. He came from a time when fiction was fixed on sociology. He was an enormous fan of John O'Hara. Open any O'Hara novel and you'll see half page long paragraphs. You'll find an indelible impression of the world he's working in. Sociology. Backstory. Writing.
Take a look at any early 87th Precinct and compare it to the later ones. From 1992 or so they haul ass as they never had before. The reader doesn't get all those great rambling takes on mores and morals that McBain was so good at. The marketplace had changed.
These days long books make me groan. I like short books. I've even been known to enjoy a Stuart Wood (but not for several years) and James Patterson (before he decided he wanted to make enough money to buy France). But not a steady diet thereof. There are plenty of thoughtful writers in our field, everybody from Laura Lippman to S.J. Rozan to Nancy Pickard to Michael Connelly. These and many others are the ones that give lasting pleasure.
I think Elmore Leonard is probably the right writer for this time. He reads fast, he's fun and he's clever as hell. He likes to say that he leaves out stuff other writers leave in. I think he's on to something there.