01 February 2012

Writing by recipe

I'm beginning to think that somebody, somewhere wrote an instruction manual for mystery writers and that Kate Atkinson and Camilla Läckberg followed the instructions.

I thought that the first Kate Atkinson novel I read, Case Histories, was well done. I even liked the way she began the book -- in snippets of story that seemed unrelated until well into the book. I wasn't quite as taken by the second Atkinson mystery I read, Started Early, Took My Dog. Alerted by my earlier experience, I began taking notes early in the reading. It still didn't measure up by my lights.

Then I tried to read Atkinson's first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. I couldn't convince myself to even finish that one. Okay, it was her first try. But it won awards! Not from me.

Dan Conrad wrote a comment on my description of trying to read Behind the Scenes... about Camilla Läckberg's The Preacher. (I'd forgotten until I looked up the blog entry.) He was disappointed after reading Läckberg's The Ice Princess.

So I headed into The Preacher without Dan's warning in my head or The Ice Princess experience.

First of all, Läckberg must have read the same instructions that Atkinson did. I didn't take notes, but there were time when I wished I had. The first half of the book is made up of bits and pieces of story and characters in little seemingly random order. Trying to get a handle on who is who and what's going on in the various settings is a chore. Not enough to disuade me from reading on, but a chore. The only bits that are clearly identifiable are two-page descriptions of sadistic, misogynistic torture that are scattered throughout the book. After the first two of those, I just skipped the rest of them.

And there's so much filler in this 400-page book. Where was the persuasive editor to convince the author that losing 100-150 pages would not be a disaster. Of course you couldn't tell all the stories and you couldn't describe all the details, but the novel would be better. Write another book with the things you leave out.

So, the main story, crazy as it is, is okay. If Läckberg's early book had a strong, active woman character, this one doesn't. It might have helped. The side and back stories seemed really superfluous to me. I wanted this to be a "choose your own adventure" type of book which gave me choices at the end of chapters about what story I wanted to continue and which ones to abandon.

No such luck.

I still want to go back and read The Ice Princess. I hope Läckberg wrote that one before she read the instruction manual about writing a bunch of little stories, cutting them into 3-paragraph sections, and then randomly pasting them onto pages in the first half of the book.

Have you read The Preacher or The Ice Princess? What did you think of it (them)? Write and tell this little bit of the world.

1 comment:

Ken Wedding said...

Carol Stoops wrote, "I have The Preacher on a stack of books to read. I'll get back to you when I read it!

"I liked what you said about long and short books in relation to Nesbo's The Leopard which I liked a lot. But it was slow going!"