One sign of a good storyteller is that their readers are able to forgive them some ‘failings’ in light of their vast strengths. So in an odd topic for this blog, I’m going to tell you what bugs me about one of my very favourite storytellers, using the protagonist in this book as an example.
My preferred thriller writer is freed from the pile for the second time this year, with his second novel in the Kathryn Dance series, Roadside Crosses (though it’s her third apperance in one of his books). To be honest, this book was only in the pile for about a week. Mr Deaver does not hang around gathering dust.
Who is Kathryn Dance? As discussed in the very first pile o’ books entry she is a kinesics-expert-CBI-agent (that’s the Californian Bureau of Investigation) who catches the bad guys through her startling ability to read people in equally powerfully intuitive and scientific ways. As the shoutline echoes across the cover, Kathryn Dance is a Walking Lie Detector. The goofball in me wants to make some quip about those damn useless stationary lie detectors…
I’m not sure how to say this without it sounding like I’m disparaging one of my fave authors, but a lot of Mr Deaver’s characters are a little, well, daggy. I mean, obviously they’re pretty awesome with their whole crime-solving abilities and often for the personal tragedies they’ve overcome (Lincolm Rhyme is a quadriplegic, Kathryn Dance is a young widow raising two children) and a lot of his characters are endearing in their individual ways. Plus they’re not all dags; I love Fred Dellray in the Lincoln Rhyme novels and he is very cool (in movie versions he should be played by Samuel L. Jackson). I don’t know what it is but there’s just something kind of ‘suburban’ about many of them. Maybe it’s just his writing style and the way he puts his enormous amount of research to use. Maybe he tells us a tad too much about them when our imaginations would work better. Maybe he tries too hard to keep the trappings of characters contemporised and therefore dates them once they ‘drive off the lot’. I haven’t managed to put my finger on it yet.
Here are the five things that miff me about Kathryn Dance:
1. It seems to me a lot of his female characters wear hairstyles and clothes which conjure up a guest appearance on Murder, She Wrote. Again, this isn’t a real criticism, I love that show (Jessica Fletcher is second only to Miss Marple for top amateur sleuths). But his descriptions bug me; blouses, tailored pants, french braids, ‘labelled’ clothing, I’ve never been comfortable with Kathryn’s glasses (she wears a pretty pink pair most of the time but when she has to go in for the kinesic kill she puts on her ‘predator’ specs which have severe black frames). I just want one of his characters to be caught out in a pair of dirty jeans, thongs and an old pearl jam t-shirt and not because they’re some wannabe rocker, just because that’s what people wear.
2. I find her shoe fetish to be a cliche.
3. Kathryn, who is a fit, attractive, healthy cop, is always eating half a donut or weighing up the pros and cons of eating one of her assistants homemade baked goods. EAT THE DAMN COOKIE, KATHRYN.
4. Her kids are too well-behaved, especially when they’re Dad’s dead and they’re Mum’s a workaholic.
5. The whole attraction to her married (although will he be for long?) friend, Michael, is just going to cause problems, never eventuate and probably mean that that nice man who has the hots for her in this book will have to leave or have something horrible happen to him. Or something horrible will happen to Michael.
Phew. Got it out. I feel better now. These minor annoyances won’t stop me reading any future Kathryn Dance stories. That’s the thing about Deaver. Yes, his characters are a little daggy and I think sometimes he puts in too much of his ‘hip’ knowledge (the ins and outs of blogging dominate this book, we get an explanation of LEET speak) but I’m happy to put up with this, in fact, I expect it and accept it as part of his books. And this minor criticism aside, I still find Mr Deaver’s books fascinating, compelling and thrilling. I thought finally, I had caught on to the killer early in the book, but as usual I was so wrong and had no idea until the author wanted me to know. I have never picked the ‘doer’, I’m usually completely shocked by the events and results, I get a little scared, a little thrilled, there’s the odd giggle and I’m always impressed by the twists and turns. And I care about the characters and I especially like and love the recurring ones – in all their crime-solving, daggy glory.