Okay, I write thrillers, so I should be used to this. Still it’s strangely hard to accept the fact that on the opening page of the Kindle version of When They Come For You the reading time is listed as approximately 4 hours.
And when the reader reviews starting piling up, there’s one refrain that repeats regularly: ‘I read it in a gulp.’ Or: ‘I couldn’t put it down.’ Or ‘I read it in one sitting.’
I know this is high praise, and I accept it as that. But still.
It took me most of a year to write the damn thing and a lot of people consumed it before lunch.
From the time I read my first mystery as a kid and had that wonderful sensation of being trapped on a thrill ride with the pages flying by, I’ve been addicted to suspense novels. As a long-time reader and lover of the genre that’s exactly the reader experience I’m looking for.
On the other hand, as a writer now and as a student of literature, I also like to savor the sentences, passages of snappy dialog or lyrical descriptions of people and places and yes, even the weather. (Though my friend and mentor Elmore Leonard made fun of books that spent too much time on the weather.)
My father (who took the two photos included here, which indicate I had an early interest in both the art of disguise and nude gunplay) told me once that he always read my novels twice. The first time to find out what happened and the second time to see how I pulled it off.
I do that too with the novels I love. I’ve read some Travis McGee novels many times. And some James Lee Burke novels and Chandler and Ross MacDonald and others too. I know exactly what’s about to happen, but it’s fun to savor the way certain writers manage to keep the forward momentum at full tilt while at the same time writing passages so beautifully composed that they are worth reading more than once.
That’s what I aspire to do. The trick is to describe the weather or the look in a person’s eyes and still make sure the reader is finished by lunch.