Monday, July 27, 2009


A week ago I picked up the galley of a novel that will be published later this year. I'd read a few of the writer's other books and liked them. Good writer. This was clearly his shot at a breakout novel, the kind of book that came into fashion with James Patterson. Breathless pace and surprises galore.

Two things. 1) The whole thing is ridiculous. All fiction is a contrivance of some kind but the burden of the writer is to keep the contrivances hidden from sight. You really have to stretch to make every chapter ending a cliff hanger. 2) I couldn't stop reading it. When I was away from it I couldn't wait to get back to it. I only almost gave up once and that was when he came up with the single dumbest Vile Secret a mystery novel suspect has ever had. Carol nudged me and wanted to know why I was laughing so hard. I really couldn't believe it. Was the writer putting us on? The other thing is all the Secrets. Gothic novelists have nothing on this book. Wheels within wheels within wheels. Nonsense most of the time. And I had a great time with it.

Back in the Seventies Barry Malzberg remarked that commercial fiction is often more about structure than writing. This certainly holds true with books like these. They are schematics with words to give them color and character.

I guess you have to pick your way through the glut of these books.. Some I really enjoy. Howard Roughan, one of James Patterson's collaborators, has an interesting take on big city life and knows how to put a true chiller-diller together. I like Harlan Coban and Jeffrey Deaver very much. I consider them the masters of the thrill-a-minute novel. They're very canny writers and good technicians. I wish I had their gifts. Malzberg was right. Structure is key.

The biggest compliment I can pay the writer of the book at hand is to say that at several moments in the book I thought Gee, I wish my own stuff was this exciting.

1 comment:

Martin Edwards said...

'Structure is key' is thought provoking. I shall keep it in mind if I ever tackle a thriller...