Usually, I love Ed McBain.  His 87th Precint series is just my thing.  Mr. McBain wrote dozens of police procedurals set in a fictional city, probably based on Chicago, with a recurring cast of characters.  Each book stands alone while following the lives of the officers and their families forward through contemporary America.  They are character driven novels, but the characters never overwhelm the plot, which is how I like it in a detective story.

But Mischief, the 43rd novel in the series, fell short.  Typically, McBain’s novels follow a set of characters, the narration shifting focus between several officers and the criminal they are pursuing, which isn’t an issue, but this time the focus never stayed on anyone long enough for me to form an attachment.  This is a problem I have with a lot of contemporary crime thrillers.  Mischief  was written in 1993, late in the series, so it could be that Mr. McBain was responding to the trends around him.

But I’m really a Victorian at heart. I don’t mind a shifting narrator, George Eliot’s God’s eye view of Middlemarch is still my all time favorite book, but I like it best when the narrator stays with one point of view per chapter, maybe two.  Switching every couple of pages works well for television, but I don’t like it in a novel.

So, I gave up on Mischief after fifty pages.

I made it to the mid 60’s before abandoning my next book, Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski, who wrote one of my top-ten favorites last year, House of Leaves.  I loved everything about House of Leaves:  the story, the  experimental plot, the payfulness of the typeface.  The whole thing was terrific, and it creeped me out, too.

So I was willing to give Only Revolutions more than the traditional fifty pages to get going.  The story concerns two young lovers on a road trip across America, I think. They may be on a crime spree, I really couldn’t follow what was going on.

The typeface game is a good one–read the book in one direction and then flip it over and read it back the other way.  Running alongside the plot is a date-book list of key events in American history.  But what the heck.  I felt like I was reading a novel length version of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl,  but a more plotless Howl.   I can follow what’s going on in Howl. If you read the first page included here, you can see what I mean.  The typeface business is fun, the page reads like Beat poetry but the book just goes on and on like that.  How much can a poor boy take?

68 pages.

So I went to Random.org to ask for a random number between 1-218, which is the number of books currently sitting in my TBR bookcase. 212 came up: Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazy.   I picked up a couple of pulp science fiction volumes by Roger Zelazny on a lark a few of years ago thinking they would be kind of fun only to find out that Mr. Zelazny is a darn good writer who can really tell an exciting story.  I think he’s one of the most under-rated writers in the fantasy/science fiction genre.  I’m a third of the way into Nine Princes in Amber and loving it.  And, I’m pleased to say it’s the first book in a ten book cycle.

Review to follow.

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2 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: The Third Book is the Charm

  1. I find books that you have to flip back-to-front kind of awkward (I’ve read two with strange formats like that). I had a college roommate who read all the Amber books- she said they were really good. Waiting to see what you think of them!

  2. I loved all the page flipping in House of Leaves, but the story itself worked for me that time. This time, there just wasn’t anything for me to hold on to. Except the book itself, I guess.

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