søndag den 22. august 2010

Thomas H. Cook, Red Leaves

This American psychological thriller is a stand-alone. The writer has written several novels but this one is the first I have read. I bought it myself.

You could say this really well-written story begins ´ab ovo´, or even before Eric´s son Keith is born. Eric loves his little family, but when Keith is fourteen, his father begins to suspect there are ´hidden depths´ and ´unexpected complexities´ to his son.

And then something terrible happens: eight-year-old Amy Giordano disappears, the neighbours´ only child, on an evening when Keith was babysitting her. The police begin an investigation, of course, but the focus in the story is Eric and his family, the story about what happens to a little family when they are involved in a criminal investigation.

At first Eric, the first-person and sometimes second-person narrator, seems to be an optimistic husband and father, and on the surface he does all he can to support Keith who is obviously in the limelight. He does not really understand Keith, his sullen and withdrawn teenageson, and perhaps not even his wife, Meredith. Soon Eric begins to brood over life, his present as well as his past in a rather dysfunctional family, and he wonders whether he could have read all the signs and saved his first family, his father, mother, brother and little sister, and now his own nuclear family.

Red autumn leaves are a recurrent theme in the novel which is full of premonition and a sense of inevitable doom rather than action and great discoveries. Meredith struggles to keep up the facade while Eric does his best to get through the cloud of suspicion and support his son. But, as he says, ´suspicion is an acid´.

My overall impression: some of the characters are well-drawn and convincing, but Meredith and the relationship between her and her husband did not sound very convincing to me. The beginning is fine and exciting and the ending did not disappoint me either, but the middle part struck me as somewhat weaker. The writer does much to build up tension and a sinister atmosphere of foreshadowing, but nothing much happens again until the last fifty pages or so.

I read it for the What´s in a name challenge # 6 (a plant) 

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That Sagging Middle: as most of you know, I write crime novels and try to sell them, but this problem is so well-known to me that I almust blush when I accuse other writers of making this error. But while I am rather good at setting the crime scene and coming up with a satisfactory ending, I always struggle with the middle part.

Still, someone has to tell us about our weak parts, no matter whether the writer is me or someone who has already published several books.

10 kommentarer:

Kerrie sagde ...

I enjoyed this one Dorte, but many have complained that there are large parts of the story where nothing happens

....Petty Witter sagde ...

The sagging middle, I'm led to believe, is a common problem along with not knowing how to end a novel which is one of my pet hates - I get so annoyed when a book ends limply or, just as bad, leaves us hanging not knowing exactly what happened.

Which brings me to my next point. When are we going to get another of your series of stories?

....Petty Witter sagde ...

PS I loved the 'My life in books' theme you had on your blog - for my answers see todays post.

Margot Kinberg sagde ...

Dorte - Thanks for your thoughtful and honest review. It does sound like a terrific premise for a novel, but I agree, a sagging middle is a sagging middle. It's something that all writers have to guard against..

Dorte H sagde ...

Kerrie: I can see what he tries to do, but I got a bit impatient.

Tracy: of course it is worse if the ending is weak, but if the middle is too boring, the reader may throw away the book before they get there.
A series of stories? Oh, I´ll have to think about that.

Margot: I know others have loved the whole book, but there *was* a great deal of repetition and moving in circles in the middle.

Kelly sagde ...

I can easily forgive a sagging middle (as long as it isn't one of those really lengthy tomes) when there is a well-written, exciting ending. It goes without saying that the beginning better grab you and draw you in right away!

pattinase (abbott) sagde ...

Oh, that sagging middle. I am looking at mine right now. I will leave you to guess if it's the one on my person or the one in my story. Or both. Right!

Maxine sagde ...

I enjoyed this novel- it was the first book of Thomas H. Cook's that I read, and I think it's the one I've liked the best.

I've now read four or five of his novels and they all have this same problem (for me) that you've identified - the author spends a huge amount of time (most of the book, usually) ratcheting up the tension (often using flashback as well as contemporary description). Somehow, the revelation can not ever quite live up to the very slow buildup.

I think Murmer of Stones (or similar title) is also very good, but his other novels could have had less of the "middle problem" for my taste, and less of the "overt build-up".

Beth F sagde ...

It's not just crime novels that suffer from a sagging middle. I see it in a lot of genres. The author has a great premise and knows where to start and where to end, but he or she just doesn't quite know how to connect the end points.

I'm no writer, so I just have to sit back and admire you and everyone else who can get a story onto the page.

Dorte H sagde ...

Patti: as I told you recently, my waist is the good part of me, and I am not going to bore you with my sagging parts ;)

Maxine: it is a pity, really, because Red Leaves could have been a perfect novella or short novel.

Beth: I know it is a general problem. Still, a sagging middle is better than a disappointing ending.