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We're Ken Hebenstreit and Sharlan Douglas, blogging here about the books we love: Mysteries, suspense, crime fiction. If you want to comment on one of our postings, click on its headline.

Archive for October, 2009

New Michael Connelly: Dragons

“no dash, no flash, no flair, no flights of rhetorical fancy.  No extra words.  No wasted motion.  A Michael Connelly novel is a thing of cool beauty, meticulously plotted, rigorously controlled.”  So says Julia Keller in the 10/18/09 Detroit Free Press.   I saw Nine Dragons, the new Harry Bosch story, at Costco yesterday for $15.95 and was seriously tempted.  But I think I’ll just put in an order at the local library.  If I can wait.

Plot, language, character & psychology

I just finished reading Dianne Emley’s debut thriller The First Cut and John Sandford’s Dark of the Moon.  Truth told, I read the Emley in two session, interrupted by the Sandford.  While I though The First Cut was OK, and I acknowledge that it was her first and his 23rd, the two books do illustrate the importance of plot, language, character and understanding the human mind.

When I read books by the best writers, like Sandford and Michael Connelly, even if I’m not putting a timeline down on paper, I subliminally know that the timing is accurate.  Their plots are well-structured.  When character A learns something, there’s time for him to tell it to character B and for our detective to trip B up in her subsequent lie about it.  I’m not saying Emley doesn’t do that, but I didn’t feel it.

Yes, Sanford has always been a master of cop-speak, and I’m sure that comes from a lot of research.  I was once a reporter covering urban police and I know their unique parlance.  While she did spend time with police during her research, Emley doesn’t quite capture their voice.

Here’s an example of how Sandford uses language to convey character. A police patrol officer in a hick Minnesota town says, “You could of gone all day without asking me that.”  On the next page, protagonist Virgil Flowers says, “Could have gone all day without saying that.”  Of.  Have. They speak volumes.

Then there’s the psycho killers.  Such a convenient device, and common, too — at least in the kind of books I read. Subtlety is everything here.  He can’t just be savage and random.  He always has an inner logic and it’s the author’s duty to leak that out, so the revelations about his mad motivation juice up the plot at a steady page.  Sandford 1, Emley 0.

My real love is police procedurals, and that’s where both books fall short.  EVIDENCE HAS TO BE HANDLED PROPERLY, PEOPLE!  Neither of the cases in these two books was going to stand up in court.