Friday, August 06, 2004

Dan Brown? Sorry, who?

Well, over the past couple of days it would be fair to say that The Guardian has well and truly jumped on the "The Da Vinci Code" wagon. On Wednesday we had Jonathan Freedman's analysis of the book's popularity, and today we have a profile of its author, Dan Brown.

Freedman does a good job, and the main reason, I'm certain is of course marketing, and controversey which leads to publicity which leads to sales. Now, I also have a little theory of my own: the pleasures it offers are childlike ones. Games, codes, puzzles, things to solve. Secrets. Many bestsellers, I think, tap into something of childhood, and I have long thought that it's why crime fiction is so popular.

The only thing I would like to take issue with is contained in the following paragraph:
There are conventional, publishing-industry explanations for this success. The book does what thrillers are meant to do, hooking you early and keeping you there. The writing may be basic to leaden, the characterisation slim to non-existent, but this is an author who knows how to do suspense. Every one of the 105 short chapters ends on a cliffhanger: the bedside clock may say 3am, but you can't help yourself. As Brown would put it: Just one more chapter.

My issue is largely pointless, but I'd just like to say that no, Mr Brown does not know how to do suspense. Suspense of a kind, possibly, but not proper suspense. He doesn't create suspense, he just keeps you in it. Holding things back for a couple of chapters is not suspense. Breaking scenes in half and inserting a chapter break so that readers go for "one more chapter", is not suspense. Readers don't put the book down not because they want to find out what happens next, but because the scene hasn't damn well ended. It's an incredibly annoying trick of the Patterson kind, and is not, in my book, suspense. Anyway... I'll leave that there.

Faye Kellerman fans aren't getting a proper novel this year - she's a far more sedately writer than her husband has been of late, which is probably wise. The next full-length novel from her, after this year's co-authored Double Homicide, is Straight Into Darkness, due in the second half of next year. Currently, anyway.

In an interview with his UK publisher early this year, Reginald Hill said that his next novel would not be an entry in his Dalziel and Pascoe series, making it his first departure from their grand company in about 5 years. Now, amazon.co.uk isn't a particularly wonderful source, but it's relatively reliable and I've heard no news from anywhere else, so I choose to believe it (for the moment) when it tells me that that next novel will now be called Mickle Cross, due next July. Advice? Expect it within a two-month bracket.

Have you ever heard of The Glass Key award? Well, you have now. It's the award Scandinavia gives for the Best Nordic Crime Novel of the Year. Winners include Henning Mankell (well, duh) Karin Fossum and Peter Hoeg. And Arnaldur Indridason, of course, who is unique for having not only won it twice, but having won it two years in a row. His English language debut Jar City (which is up next on my pile) won it, as did the sequel, Lady in Green, which joins its predecessor in translation next year. I'm getting rather excited about Indridason, I must say - one German critic has said "Iceland now has its own Mankell", and if that's true them my future in reading looks bright yet again. Oh, and, all this information? From this article. It also provided me with the truly impressive fact that during April 2003 four of his novels had a place on the Icelandic Top Ten Bestsellers list.

I'll close with a word on what I'm reading now. The Last Six Million Seconds, by John Burdett, set during the final days before Hong Kong was handed back to China. Burdett first came to a mild form of fame last year with his novel Bangkok 8, which impressed many people. I saw several say it was one of their favourite debuts the year, but in fact, it was Burdett's third novel (following Seconds, and a legal thriller called A Personal History of Thirst.) So far, my verdict on this one is very good indeed.