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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Closer (Michael Connelly)

No one will mistaken Michael Connelly for a great stylist. His prose is as dry and plain as an instruction manual, and he tends to leave little to the imagination when describing actions. He was a journalist, but he certainly did not write for The New Yorker.

But my oh my is he a great plotter. The cases are fundamentally not too complex, and he respects all the common and identifiable motives: lust, greed, revenge, desire. At the heart of his novels are the ornate, almost labyrinthine police procedures and retrospective, fragmented nature of piecing together the truth. The investigation itsef is the riddle, the heroes, and the reward all wrapped in one neat package.

The order of dropping a clue here and a clue there without giving away the big payoff, while sustaining the narrative momentum and maintaining the crime's inate logic and coherence, is at the heart of the genre and no easy feat (trust me, I've tried it). Some of the literary types like to dabble in the detective genre (just to show off? just for fun?), but they almost always fuck up the structure and often fuck up the motives as well. You think it's easy to lead the reader around the maze for 400 pages without losing their attention and still throw them a bomb of a payoff in the end? Ha! The best mystery plotters do this with deceptive ease. You only notice it when the author fucks up.

In The Closer, Connelly wove an elaborate net in which dangled a big red herring. When the red herring was discarded, however, I was not disappointed because a part of this net was intricately woven into the real answer to the puzzle. After the climax, he threw us a bonus final twist that not only fit neatly into the plot but also delivered an emotional punch.

A few years ago I heard Connelly talk at National Book Festival. He said he does not outline. He knows the beginning and the end of a novel and just writes his way from one to the other. In other words, it's all in his head!

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