Sunday, June 29, 2008

ordinary persons

The first two Dexter novels by Jeff Lindsay were good enough to make me want to read the third but not good enough to make me want to pay the hardcover price for it. Luckily Terry Morrow lent me his copy of "Dexter in the Dark." The novels are similar yet very different from the excellent Showtime series that I like so much. Some characters who die in the books, are still alive in the show and vice versa. By the third book I had gotten accustomed to the differences and found that I enjoyed reading it more than the first two.

I noticed that Lindsay runs into the same literary roadblock that caused Patricia Cornwell to change the way she writes her Kay Scarpetta novels. The first two Dexter books and most of the third are written in the first person, narrated by the title character. However in the third book, the author occasionally switches perspective to that of the villain. He also gives voice to the concept of evil from creation through evolution to modern times. I was especially disappointed by evil's poor vocabulary. It refers to early humans as the "monkey things."

After I finished "Dexter in the Dark," I started reading Cornwell's "Book of the Dead," which I had received for Christmas. At about the halfway point, I'm finding that I have very little sympathy for or interest in the recurring characters. A couple of them have life-threatening illnesses and another seems bent on self-destruction. Maybe Cornwell is going to clean the slate and give Scarpetta a new cast of regulars in the future.

Her writing style has changed since the earlier Scarpetta novels. Not only did Cornwell abandon the first person narrative a few books back, now she has begun using sentence fragments to start chapters. These phrases read more like something you would find in a screenplay than a novel. Usually it just states where the scene will take place. My wife said that if Cornwell used Microsoft Word, she would have gotten a lot of squiggly green lines under her sentences.

Mystery novels that are narrated by the detective have a hard time maintaining the suspense as the main character finds the final clues. Several of the books I've read start omitting details right when it gets to the good part. The difference is noticeable after extremely descriptive early chapters. It's frustrating when the narrator stops short of telling us what they figured out before racing off to confront the villain. Many times we don't find out who the murderer is until much later.

My current favorite series of novels is also written in the first person. I will have to ask the writing team of Jefferson Bass how they plan to handle the narrative in their future books the next time I see them.

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Blogger overtly trite said...

sadly I lost interest Cornwall stuff several books ago maybe she needs to branch out leave those charcters behind?
I liked the Bass book well enough but I haven't tried the Dexter books yet


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