26 July 2011

Frustration rewarded

I picked up the last of my birthday cache from book pusher Mary. It was Queen of the Night by J. A. Jance. I'm glad I did, but for quite awhile I wasn't at all sure that I was fortunate to get this gift.

Queen of the Night flowering cactus

Jance's credits page lists 41 previous books. I've read several and been impressed with her characters. I guess she really knows how to structure a plot too. This one is like jigsaw puzzle that is difficult to put together. When I started the book, I had trouble following the story. The book consists of tiny snippets of story and action. Okay, but they aren't consecutive. Each one is carefully labeled with place, day, date, time, and temperature, but that didn't really help me unless I paged back and looked at the labels of earlier snippets. It was frustrating.

Even more frustrating was the huge cast of characters. I stumbled through the first 100 (of 350) pages. But there were interesting people and intriguing mysteries that made me want to continue reading. What I did was go back through the first 100 pages and make a chart of the characters and their relationships.

As you can see, even if you can't read all my scribblings, there are lots of people and lots of relationships. And new characters were introduced after the first 100 pages, too. Not all of them made the chart. This diagram became my reading companion right up to the end. Maybe my old brain isn't as capable as it once was. Maybe I just didn't concentrate enough, but this is supposed to be recreational reading, not academic study. Maybe Jance just created too many characters and too many complications.

I was reminded of the Russian novels that had lists of characters at the beginning. Jance could have helped by making such a list. I also remembered reading Michael Fredrickson's second book, Witness for the Dead, that I read back in 2003. It had a large cast of characters, but something about the way the book was written and how the characters were introduced made it easy for me to keep track of them. (If you look back at that review, done in a pre-blog presentation, you'll find that some of the links are no longer functional.)

Making the chart and referring to it everytime scenes in the book changed, made all the difference for me. I got so I could recognize names and checked the chart for relationships and statuses. From there on the book was great. Reading the last 100 pages kept me awake until nearly 1:00am (long past my usual bedtime).

I'm really glad I made the effort to finish the book. It's really too bad the beginning was so difficult. It's a story full of heroes and villains and family feuds and family loyalties. The story centers on actions -- good and bad, and you know from reading things here that I like good stories. I just wish the story telling had been easier for me to follow.

Have you read Queen of the Night? What was the experience like for you? Write and tell this little bit of the world about your reaction.

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