Saturday, June 17, 2017

Late Start

And when I say "late start" I don't mean the fact it's Saturday when I posted this instead of Friday!

No, my late start in this case refers to what I'm reading.

I finally managed to pick myself up a copy of Killing Floor by Lee Child. For anyone who's not in the know, this is the first of the Jack Reacher stories.

So far...I'm not truly loving it. I'm certain at least a part of that is down to me, and what I like in a story. Some of it is down to me recognising certain aspects which are generally considered errors. And a whole other—completely unfair to the author—problem is the massive exposure the books have had, which unfortunately created a certain expectation within me. One which hasn't truly been fulfilled by this first book.

Okay, firstly, disclaimers out of the way. I don't know a whole lot about Lee Child, so I'm not sure if this was his first published book. But in any case, the book is now 20 years old, and the faults I see within it might well be those of a fledgeling author finding his feet. We've all been there, and we all strive to get better with each book.

There's also some clunky referencing to mobile telephone usage (specifically how to use those beasties in the solving of a crime). Again, the book is 20 years old and there ain't much technology that's changed faster than mobile telephones in the past two decades. No criticism of the author on that one.

Final disclaimer is that I seem to have a tendency not to "get" a lot of writers who many others adore. I enjoy Neil Gaiman's work but don't find myself immersed. I loved Michael Crichton's attention to detail and his research, but not so much his actual writing. And Stephen King eludes me almost completely. I don't pretend for a second that my incompatibility with these authors in any way reflects on the quality of their work. Just the quality of my connection to it.

Righty-o. Now I've got all that said, I do believe I'll finish this book. I don't know yet if I'll pursue any more of the series. There are several hurdles I'm finding.

The pacing seems a tad sedate in most parts. A lot of key action so far (and I'm roughly half way through) has happened "off screen". Sometimes that's how it needs to be...sometimes it creates a sense of the tempo dragging. So far, it feels about half of one and half of the other.

One of the problems I mentioned above—the fame of the books—has had an effect, for sure. And in part it's because I've also seen the movie Jack Reacher. Putting aside the obvious physical differences between movie Jack and book Jack (such as a whole foot of height), and whether you like Tom Cruise as a person (as portrayed in the media), there's little doubt the man can hold your attention when he's on screen. Yet his portrayal of Reacher feels quite distant from the man I'm reading in the book.

The book character has the luxury of being able to narrate his thoughts to us, of course, so we can be certain when he's having doubts. Movie Jack seems never to hesitate, always has the right answer or solution. Again, through no fault of Lee Child's, my first exposure was to the movie guy, which has helped unseat the book guy's hold on my attention.

The other main stumbling block for me is the writing style. Child writes short. Sharp, brief sentences. Sentences which cut. Cut hard. He also writes tell. A lot of tell. Repetition is key. Key to understanding. See this metaphor? It's a good metaphor. Let me explain it. You now see how good it is.

I get it. These books are more in the thriller, action, crime kinds of genres. It's not like romance or erotica. I just find the overabundance of brevity to be quite jarring.

Oh, and one more thing which I just remembered. The author breaks, or sprains, a few of Elmore Leonard's ten rules of writing. And flogs another one almost to death.

Leonard's first rule ("never open a book with weather") gets sprained, rather than broken. Weather gets described in moderate detail several times...just not at the opening of the book. Rules 8 and 9 ("avoid detailed descriptions of characters" and "don't go into great detail describing places and things") get brushed aside with great regularity. But rule 3 ("never use a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue") gets pounded hard. So hard that the word "said" becomes an echo, despite being needed.

These are observations more than criticisms...but as someone who loves the writing of both Elmore Leonard and Walter Mosley, I found those elements a tad grating.

So, as I say, I'll finish this one. And I guess I probably will try the next book or two in the series. I want to like them, and maybe I will when I get more familiar with them.


  1. I know authors love to have their books made into movies, for obvious financial reasons, but I can see serious negative impacts, like the ones you detail here.

    One question (and I don't know the answer): was the Jack Reacher series popular BEFORE the movies? Or did the movies make it popular?

    Oh, and as for Elmore Leonard's rules -- over the years I have become convinced he intended them as tongue in cheek.

    1. I'm reasonably certain the movies only came about because the books were quite popular but I haven't put in any research. And yeah, I'm not sure how serious Sir Elmore was with the rules but I do like the sound of them. And I'd definitely read his work (and Mosley's) over Lee Child's, were I forced to choose.

  2. Momma X reads the Jack Reacher series and it's been popular for a while.

    I also tend to write in those short, declarative sentences, but try to mix it up with longer ones to not come off so staccato.

    1. Yes, I think that's my main issue with it. I too choose to write short sentences at times (especially in flash fiction). But a whole bunch of them in close proximity comes across like an ostinato, more than an echo.

  3. I've never tried to read any of those writers. My late mom and my brother always raved about Stephen King, but I don't care for horror, either in books or in movies. And I like spy movies, but don't care to read the books. Too busy reading cultural anthropology and such, in my few moments I can spare to read.

    As for Neil Gaiman? Bleah! A few years ago my daughter had "American Gods" assigned in her lit class while in college, and I decided to read it along with her. GAH! It was painful! No matter how many times I lashed myself to the chair and forced my eyeballs open, I just couldn't get into it. I found it dull and uninteresting, and hated all of the characters. None seemed redeemable to me. And when I finally forced myself to finish it and contacted my daughter, I found she'd skipped entire pages...even chapters, just to get through it and write her paper. She hated it even more than I did. So it can't just be a generational thing. Now I hear it's been made into a TV show? No thanks!

    Though I have been enjoying all of the Percy Jackson books. There are 2 series' of 5 books each, and now there are 2 books in the latest series, only now the books are no longer in the juvenile section of the library, but are in the young adult section. There isn't any sex in them, but the narrator in this new series is Apollo, who reminisces back to when he was still a god, before Zeus kicked him out and made him fall to earth as a pimply-faced teenager. He had numerous love affairs with both men and women; and he gets quite flummoxed when he meets someone who is a child of his, and he doesn't even remember bedding the mother.


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