Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Is it just me…

by Rick Blechta

Lately I’ve been puzzling over why I enjoy reading some authors and not others. We all have our likes and dislikes, of course, but this goes beyond that.

If you’ve been reading my posts, you know I recently discovered the celebrated Italian crime fiction author Andrea Camilleri and how much I’m enjoying the series he writes featuring Inspector Montalbano. Being in the writing business, of course I’m analyzing what it is that I find so enjoyable about the novels. Steal from the best, I always say!

Montalbano is exceptionally bad-tempered at times, and normally that would bother me, possibly to the point of bailing out on the story, but I coast right on past that. I enjoy the setting as well but in thinking back, there’s hardly any description in these novels, certainly not enough to give me a good “mental snapshot” of where the action is happening, and normally that would bother me too. I've never been to Sicily and there are certainly a lot of other readers who haven’t been, either, so it really isn’t fair to us to leave this out. But I coast right on past that problem too.

So what is it?

Well, Camilleri does have description of a sort. In place of the usual things used to set a scene, Camilleri presents us with the detailed inner thoughts of his main character. In building suspense in the stories, the author can’t make us privy to everything Montalbano’s thinking plot solution-wise, but he reveals to readers what this intriguing police inspector thinks about those around him, the politics of Sicily, food, whatever. It made me realize that if we were also given more detailed description of each story’s physical surroundings, the novels would become totally bogged down.

But that still didn’t answer my question: What is it about these stories?

Last night as I turned off the light after an hour spent in Sicily, it dawned on me. Camilleri’s plots are engrossing, but they unfold at a very leisurely pace for the most part. In thinking back to one or two North American police procedural novels I’ve read recently — and didn’t enjoy all that much — I realized that the action in them was too relentless. They raced from one physical altercation to another. The authors’ also employed the “jump-cut” technique of current TV shows and movies. While that can make a plot really cook along, it also becomes tiring — at least to me.

In North America it seems it has to be all action, action, action. I’m finding that wearing. When I think back to the Maigret novels as an example, I realize that action at the pace Simenon writes is more enjoyable for me. Camilleri’s novels have a very similar pace (which I don’t think is accidental) but it just works so well in Sicily. North American-style action sequences would just not work as well.

How do you feel about pace in a crime fiction novel?


Judy Penz Sheluk said...

Rick, I too am a fan of slower paced novels. I'm currently reading The Witch Elm by Irish writer Tana French. It's 500+ words, smallish print, and the story unfolds very slowly. And yet, I'm engrossed in it, and would say it's one of the best books I've read in some time.
I think, as my life/our lives in general, get busier and noisier with 24/7 news, social media etc. it's nice to take a step back and read something not quite so rushed. Thanks for the book rec. Shall check it out.

Rick Blechta said...

I'm in pretty much the same place, Judi. It's also nice to savour something like a good book, and with those really super-speed-paced novels, I tend to start reading faster and faster. It's almost like I have to get to the end as soon as possible -- and not for the best reasons.

Thanks for your thoughts!