Dear Reader....

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Paul Whybrow

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I've just begun a crime novel by Mason Cross, who I haven't read before. Don't Look For Me is his fourth novel, and the cover has the usual plaudits of endorsement from well-known authors, including Lee Child, who I think must have a second career as a writer of blurb as he's praised half of the crime novels I've read this year.

Mason Cross has an unusual approach to his story, for it begins with a 'Dear Reader' letter of introduction. (Click on the Amazon page Look inside tag to read his greeting.)

It begins: 'Dear Reader, I'm really excited to share my latest book with you. If you're not familiar with Carter Blake, then this is a great place to start. I've so enjoyed building his character and seeing it develop over the series.'

He goes on to hint at what happens to the male and female protagonists, before encouraging you to read the earlier novels, which 'contain little rewards and Easter eggs for regular visitors to the series.' Mason Cross closes with invitations to visit his website, Twitter account and to join his Readers Club.

The overall impression feels less like a warm welcome, but more like being ambushed by an unctuous car salesman at the door to his showroom, who explains his sales ethos before letting you look at the cars. I have no idea if it was the author's idea or if the dreaded marketing department pushed him to the fore.

I'm used to Prologues, which appear in a good third of crime novels. I like them, as they set the scene by foreshadowing the action, giving the reader something to remember and cogitate the significance of....

Elmore Leonard's disliked prologues, in his Ten Rules for Good Writing, but he also advised against opening a story with the weather, yet in the last few months I've read a dozen crime novels by acknowledged masters of the genre which do just that, as the climatic conditions have an impact on the action.

Reprints of classic novels often have an introductory essay by a literary expert, a critic or fellow author, analysing the significance of the story you're about to read. Occasionally, the acknowledgements and thanks to friends, family and experts appear at the start of a novel, instead of at the end, but this is the first time I've had an author greet me at the door.

What do you think of this technique?

It feels like the publisher is trying to form a crossover between different forms of media—the printed book and the internet. It would be less intrusive in the Kindle version.
 
Technique be damned. No, I don't like it. AND - pet hate...his character has got Blake in his name. Real people called Blake, fine. Fictional characters called Blake; I hate it, starting with Blake's Seven. And Carter Blake. Noooooooo.
 
Technique be damned. No, I don't like it. AND - pet hate...his character has got Blake in his name. Real people called Blake, fine. Fictional characters called Blake; I hate it, starting with Blake's Seven. And Carter Blake. Noooooooo.

Always rather fond of 'Blake's Seven' and thought it would be a prime candiate for a remake. :)
 
Blake Blake! Carter Blake. I don't believe in it. It sounds as if he's used a name generator.
 
The overall impression feels less like a warm welcome, but more like being ambushed by an unctuous car salesman at the door to his showroom, who explains his sales ethos before letting you look at the cars. I have no idea if it was the author's idea or if the dreaded marketing department pushed him to the fore.

I agree with you wholeheartedly. That intro would have put me off completely and made me put the book down.
 
I was startled by the author 'heading me off at the pass' as I set off into the landscape of his novel. It made me realise, how much my brain goes into anticipation mode as I start reading a new story, alert to a new world and leaving my own existence behind.

I'm 50 pages into Don't Look For Me, and it's not bad, though I've noticed one problem with how Mason Cross has named characters. So far, he's got five people whose name begins with the letter 'C'—the protagonist Carter, and Carol and Chris for forenames with Carlson for a surname—while the action has just moved to a town called Corinth!

I picked up on it because I once did the same. In my third novel, I had five characters whose names began with 'J' which started to confuse me as I wrote the story, let alone any prospective readers.

This is one of the drawbacks of reading a novel with a writerly eye.
 
This is one of the drawbacks of reading a novel with a writerly eye.
This. A thousand times this.

Not only do I, at times, regret ever setting out to write thanks to the emotional strain of trying to get published, but I also have ruined the act of reading for myself as well. Typos, boring plots, poor characterisation and plain old bad writing now send me into fits of apoplectic rage. I have just, in fact, gone back to try and read some books I have not read in 20 years and found them to be utterly hateful. It is, frankly, very depressing.
 
It pays to advertise, although he has probably overdone it in this case. I'd never heard of Mason Cross, but I have now - simply because his commercialism was raised here as an issue. I was not tempted to peek inside the Amazon cover.

There's only one thing worse than being criticised - and that's being completely ignored.
 
This. A thousand times this.

Not only do I, at times, regret ever setting out to write thanks to the emotional strain of trying to get published, but I also have ruined the act of reading for myself as well. Typos, boring plots, poor characterisation and plain old bad writing now send me into fits of apoplectic rage. I have just, in fact, gone back to try and read some books I have not read in 20 years and found them to be utterly hateful. It is, frankly, very depressing.

I know what you mean, Howard. Revisiting old favourite stories is something that a lot of us do as we age, hoping for a new perception from being older, but it reminds me of that aphorism about how you should avoid meeting your heroes for fear of disappointment. Sometimes one's memory of a book is better viewed through rose-tinted glasses. I recently tried re-reading Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, having been captivated by the ape-man as a boy but was embarrassed by the stilted prose. I've put my loincloth back in the wardrobe!
 
I know what you mean, Howard. Revisiting old favourite stories is something that a lot of us do as we age, hoping for a new perception from being older, but it reminds me of that aphorism about how you should avoid meeting your heroes for fear of disappointment. Sometimes one's memory of a book is better viewed through rose-tinted glasses. I recently tried re-reading Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, having been captivated by the ape-man as a boy but was embarrassed by the stilted prose. I've put my loincloth back in the wardrobe!
Yes it is a little disheartening. For me it was Douglas Adams, just yesterday. Adams was a favourite of my father's, as he was very keen on all things sci-fi, and the pair of us reading and enjoying it was a happy memory for me.
Picking up The Guide after 20 years and reading through a few dozen pages, I found myself physically wincing at the whole thing. Oh well...
 
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