Thursday, February 16, 2012


I read a pair of books recently, one I liked quite a bit and the other...not so much. The first, the one I liked, was Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell. I'd seen the film, but had never read anything by Woodrell before. Not only did I like the story --a teen girl looking for her father in the backwoods of Methville, Missouri-- but the writing style was excellent. A little too poetic in some places, but even then, I loved it. One memorable passage described a guy's face as being "smoked with beard." Smoked with beard? That's brilliant!

I also loved how the "mystery" is never really solved. You never know who exactly killed Jessup Dolly, but there's a payoff for the reader that's a hundred times better than revealing whodunit. As far as mystery novels go, it's one of the best I've read in years.

The other book, which I didn't like so much, was Michael Connelly's The Brass Verdict. Connelly's one of those guys I've figured out. There are certain ticks of his style that just bug me. So many "he knew" sentences. And the nodding...Jesus Christ, everyone's nodding all the time.

Page 45. "I nodded like I understood." Page 54. "I nodded, thinking about the scenario and how it had gone down." Page 69. "I nodded in agreement and waited." Page 76. "I nodded and left the chambers...." You get the idea.

Connelly's a very precise writer who spells things out for you. And this is why I don't think he should focus on courtroom dramas, or at least try and switch up the style a bit. The precision and reportorial detail that works in a murder mystery just gets boring and mundane when its stuck in the structural limitations of a courtroom drama. Nothing against courtroom dramas, but they're very formulaic: question and answer stuff, procedure, strategy. There's one setting. The roles are clearly delineated. You've got the judge, the jury, the lawyers, the witnesses. They do one thing: they talk. Sometimes it gets heated --the drama-- but there's always a "Your Honor" or a "Counselor" on the way. The rules, after all, must be observed.

So what I'm saying is that the formula is dry enough. I would have liked The Brass Verdict more if it had more faces "smoked with beard" and less people nodding.

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