One of the pleasures of being “retired” is having the time to discover new authors. I also discovered a new cheap way of doing this. My local library in Howard County Maryland has a shelf of books they are purging from their collection that are on sale for $2.00 each. And when you pay $2 for a book, you don’t feel you have to finish it if it’s not your cup of soup.
I’ll start with an author I discovered whose books who I’ll keep reading: Charles Finch. I bought Finch’s “An Old Betrayal,” the seventh in a series featuring Charles Lenox mysteries.
A test of an author’s writing craft is to pick up a book in the middle of the series and not feel lost or that you have to go back and read the others from the first onward. Finch passes that test.
Finch who lives in the States writes about a man who breaks from the confines of his class in Victorian England to play detective. In “An Old Betrayal,” he is a Member of Parliament having given up the detective role, but then is drawn back in to help his successor.
The story is well-plotted leaving the reader guessing almost to the end. Setting a novel so far in the past requires an ability to create that time period with colorful descriptions of dress and street life. Finch does very well on that score, and his characters are also vivid and interesting.
A second book I picked up from the library failed the test on almost every count. Faye Kellerman’s “A Burnt House” is the 16th in a series featuring Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus–husband and wife it turns out. Rina plays a very minor role in this novel. So why she gets featured on the cover is beyond me. Maybe because the publisher thought those who liked her when she had a more important role would be swayed to purchase this book?
The bottom line is that I felt lost from the start because the author must have assumed anyone reading this book knows these characters and their history. Worse, however, was the fact that the story itself did not excite me. I write mysteries as well as thrillers. It’s easier to create a sense of urgency in a thriller, but mysteries should also be structured so that the reader feels compelled to keep reading. In this police procedural I couldn’t have cared less if they solved the mysteries or not. The victims were dead–one for decades.
I also was not impressed by how Decker solved the murders. The solutions seemed too contrived. I won’t be looking for any of Kellerman’s works when the pile on my bedstand gets low.
Another well-known thriller writer––Eric Van Lustbader, author of the Jason Bourne series––also gets a low grade from me after I tried to slog through “Father Night” the fourth in his Jack McClure series. Like the book from Kellerman’s series, Van Lustbader’s seems to demand that you’ve read the earlier books. He does provide some backstory to help us understand why we should care about his characters, but I didn’t. They were all stick figures to me, including his protagonist who functions like a super hero except when Van Lustbader decides it’s time to put him in danger. Not only that, but there were too many primary characters and too much of their backstory to keep track of.
Van Lustbader also violated a major thriller no-no. He
introduces several deus ex maxima
plot twists late in the story. A man’s twin shows up just in time to kill him
without any logical reason that he should be there, and without letting us know
earlier that there was a twin. Then other role switches occur as people are not
who we thought they were two-thirds through the story. One or two of these in a
story is plenty. Half a dozen. Spare me.
Finally, not having read any of his novels for quite a while, I thought I’d try one of John Grisham’s more recent efforts. “The Broker” shows why Grisham has such a large following. He immediately draws the reader into the story and keeps a tight grip on the reader’s attention through to the end. “The Broker” includes current political intrigue, intelligence agency involvement, and a travelogue to northern Italy where readers get easy to follow Italian language lessons. What more could you ask for?
I hope my readers will look to their local libraries for books that introduce them to new authors. And remember there’s no law you have to read a book to the end if it’s disappointing…unless of course if it’s for your book club and then you really ought to fulfill your obligation to the group.