Reliable Reads

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Paul Whybrow

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Jun 20, 2015
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Cornwall, UK
We all have favourite writers whose books feel as welcoming as coming home. In fiction, I read about 50% crime genre novels, with the rest being so-called literature and classics, that I'm revisiting or reading for the first time—often as some famous author has mentioned the title as being praiseworthy, in an interview.

I'm a bit suspicious of award winning novels, as they're given prizes more as a marketing tool, rather than because of the quality of the writing...or its readability!

There's a difference between liking a book and admiring it; the same could be said of any form of the arts. For instance, I've recently read two novels by highly respected authors, both of which left me feeling unmoved. Zadie Smith's On Beauty is immaculately written—she describes family politics well—but it reads like elegant bickering. It also had a nasty snootiness with the intellectual characters looking down on the hoi-polloi. I have a hit and miss relationship with Peter Carey, loving some of his books and finding others a bit of a mess. His Illegal Self is confusing and uninvolving, despite the protagonist being a neglected eight-year-old boy. It reads like a disjointed first draft of a novel, as if Carey sat down each morning, saying, "Now, what shall I write about today?", without remembering what he wrote in previous chapters.

After finishing those two novels, I was glad to turn to the The Sinners, the eighth story in Ace Atkins' series about a Mississippi lawman. I was 100 pages into reading it, when I wondered what it was that made it such a reliable read. One thing is, that having read the preceding books, I'm emotionally invested in the ongoing stories of the principal characters, both goodies and baddies. The story has a strong sense of place, including realistic descriptions of the landscape and how Mississippi fits in with the rest of the USA. Also, and I know that this sounds a curious reason for liking a story, but Atkins keeps things real by describing how working folk struggle to survive in a depressed economy, sometimes turning to crime.

I realised that I like the same sort of thing in other favourite authors, such as James Lee Burke, John Connolly, Michael Connelly, Lawrence Block, Dennis Lehane, Larry McMurtry and Andrea Camilleri.

All too many novels' plot lines exist in a vacuum, where everyday reality barely intrudes on the lives of the characters' personal relationships. My reliable writers strike a believable balance between their characters' work lives and how they socialise. I know what I'm getting when I step into their world, and I trust the brand. I hope to engender the same loyalty for my Cornish Detective series.

Who are you go-to authors for a reliable read?

And how do they satisfy you?

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