13 May 2013

Some thoughts from Down Under

Bird Loomis has been doing the visiting scholar bit in Australia, so his has been a year without a winter. Along with lecturing, writing, and observing, he's also been reading and visiting galleries down under. I don't know what he's been doing in the galleries, but here are some of the things he's been reading.

Long-running series:.  Just finished the last two C. J. Box books, with Joe Pickett as the central character. Force of Nature is #12 in the series, Breaking Point #13.  And I recently finished Ian Rankin’s latest John Rebus book, Standing in Another Man's Grave.

The Rankin and Force of Nature were pretty good, but not great. Both represented late-series books that were more than a bit formulaic.  At some point Pickett’s domestic tensions and his buddy Nate Romanowski’s super-human exploits grow wearisome, as does Rebus’s drinking, smoking, and listening to a who’s who of jazz. Still, Box and especially Rankin are skilled authors, and even an average outing is not bad, especially when you can download it on a Nook in 30 seconds. 

This brings us to Box’s latest book, Breaking Point, which has been discussed a bit here previously.  Given its cartoonish treatment of the EPA specifically and governmental regulations in general, I was prepared not to like it at all. I checked out Amazon and found lots of very positive reviews, and a devastating critique of its treatment of bureaucracy.  Still, I’m sitting here in Australia, and my wife Michel has gone home. So I’ve got hours to fill in the evening. Well, there is a lot of excellent wine… In any event, I ordered Breaking Point yesterday and started reading.  And all the folks on Amazon were right. It was riveting and cartoonish in its depiction of bureaucrats.  But by the end of forty pages, the story has won out. I suspended my disbelief and let go.  Great read. Virtually no Nate and no domestic issues for the last half of the book, just a fast-paced set of story lines.  C. J. Box and Joe Pickett still have some juice. I’ll still be a bit suspicious, but will look toward #14 with more optimism. 

I also recently finished Adrian McKinty’s The Cold, Cold Ground, introducing a Belfast Catholic detective during “the Troubles” of the early 1980s. McKinty is a young, but prolific, author, who I saw discussing his trade in a TV recording of his presentation at Adelaide’s Writer’s Week discussions (which took place in March). McKinty was a good talker, and he stated his suspicion of series, even one as consistently good as Mankel’s Wallander set.  McKinty's done a couple of short, three-book series, and was just starting with his new detective, Sean Duffy, in Belfast (a Protestant stronghold, of course). McKinty is good (based on my one-book reading). His Belfast was great, in that he’d grown up there. The tensions of being a Catholic cop in a Protestant city, during a violent time, are well-developed. I already have pre-ordered the next volume, due out in the next couple of days

McKinty argued that he had nothing more insightful to say about his characters after three books.  I’m still thinking about that. But it does make one think of whether a long-lasting  series offers much beyond predictable narratives.  I think that Breaking Point does it pretty well, but most later books in long-running series are likely to be written and read with formulaic expectations.  Maybe McKinty is right, but you need to be highly confident in your own abilities and willing to turn a deaf ear to the entreaties of your editor and publisher.

Have you read C. J. Box recently? Have you read the latest Rebus novel? How about McKinty's The Cold, Cold Ground? Do you agree with McKinty that authors have little new to tell us after three books about the same characters? Write. Tell this little bit of the world what you think.

No comments: