Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Ruttan on Rickards***

I have always read for pleasure. One of my greatest disappointments as a child was learning CS Lewis was dead, which meant I wouldn’t ever meet him. And during high school I was nose-deep in classics like Hamlet, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations.

I’m one of those freaky people that will re-read books too. Like Tolkein’s LOTR series – I’ve read that so many times I’ve lost count. If a good story has engaging characters that I’ve grown to love, I can’t get enough of them.

Five years ago I was reading mostly historical fiction. Yes, the freak elements multiply – I am a history buff. I love old buildings and old places and imagining what life was like there hundreds of years ago. I had that feeling in Kerkouane, on the north coast of Africa, wondering about the moment when they saw the Romans coming. And again in Carthage. But I digress.

It was four or five years ago that I turned my attention back to the modern mystery. Oh, I’d read mysteries all along, but nothing that was really captivating me. I could tell you my theory on why that is, but it would offend some people. All I’ll say is at that point, I had yet to find a character in a modern mystery (as in, not historical mystery) that I couldn’t get enough of.

Until I bought The Falls. The great thing about discovering someone with a solid backlist is that you’ve got all these wonderful books instantly at your disposal, and you can devour them.

And devour I did. I didn’t know anything about Ian Rankin, other than what it said on the book jacket. I didn’t care. I just loved his creation.

As I sought to branch out and read more contemporary mystery authors, I thought of my earlier disappointments in the genre that fell short of Rankin’s offerings. And that was when I started reading interviews with Ian Rankin, noting down authors and books he recommended.

From there, it’s been a wild ride. And 19 months ago, when I started writing the first draft of my first mystery manuscript, I started learning more and more about the business and the people in it.

Since I first picked up The Falls I’ve developed a system for selecting books. Before, I’d tried ones that were being pushed hard, “best-sellers”, big names. Nobody’s to me, in the end.

I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for British crime books. But part of the reason I developed such a successful system of picking books I always really liked was I was sticking well inside my comfort zone. Police procedurals. Set in the UK, usually, some in the US, some Canada. But usually the UK. Third person narrative. Main protagonist is a man. I know. Picky, picky.

And I’m rather monogamous as a reader too. I’ll devour everything put out by an author and then glumly move on to the next set of books. I’m working on that. I’m getting much better. But because 90% of the time I read strictly for pleasure, well, I want to enjoy what I’m reading. And I also buy all the books I read, except ones people buy for me. No library card in overdrive. I love my books. Some I’ll read and pass on, but select books become eternal fixtures on the shelves of my home, the treasures I can’t part with.

Which brings me to my latest adventure in literature: A foray into the mind of John Rickards.

There’s a lot about John I could resent. For one thing, he’s younger than I am. And he has a publishing deal. His blog is world famous.

But there’s even more about John that I respect. I’m so damned impressed by someone who cares more that I read his books than that I just bought them. No, “Yeah, made two more sales” line, but “I want you to read TTOG…” That’s an artist. It can be hard on these blogs to always get a sense of the dimensions of a person but I’d have to say there’s a lot more to John than we get to see here.

From my lengthy ‘To Be Purchased’ list, I selected John’s books as my Christmas presents this year. And promptly started reading them.

I finished The Touch of Ghosts Tuesday. I was actually a bit misty-eyed, and it wasn’t the relief because I was finally finished either. It’s been a while since I bought two successive books in a series and read them back to back. I’m always reluctant to comment too much, because I don’t want to give storylines and plot away. But in TTOG I was blindsided. Expertly fooled. That was ‘hiding in plain sight’ at it’s best.

The other thing is, I had such a deep emotional connection to the character. It’s been tough lately, with my closest friend’s father dying of cancer. There’ve been a lot of tears. And TTOG gave me a recurring lump in my throat. It hurt to read it, because the emotions were raw.

Some of the lines – I wish I’d marked them –the alliteration was delicious. The words flowed so smoothly I had to go back and re-read them, just to enjoy the phrasing all over again.

There were many things I liked. They way he slipped the ‘psychotic overdose drug’ thing right past me in the first book. I do not want to read books where I feel like the writer thinks I’m an idiot. I’m so much happier when they prove I am one. Plus it helps when the book is in first person if the protagonist is a man, at least for me. I’m generalizing here, but women can be so frickin’ petty and annoying. I have no interest at all in reading about know-it-all chicks who get called Barbie (or the equivalent) who think the best things in life can be bought at Saks. Hope I spelled that right. But truly, bleah. Go break a nail somewhere else. Yuck.

And I love men. For all the teasing I do, really, I love men. It’s always a crappy thing when you’re married, but most of my friends have always been guys. So I like reading about men - I’m really fussy about female protagonists. I even write with at least equal billing male-female protagonists, or in one case, my three main characters are two guys, one girl.

I want a mental challenge when I read and I have to be interested in the case and the character and feel like I’ve gotten lost in that world. I’ve been to Maine. I’ve been to New Brunswick. Well, Quebec too. I could see the places being depicted from the descriptions.

When I do the inevitable reviews for Spinetingler I have to be careful not to sound too gushing about one book and not as much about another. It’s just in my nature. I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings, unless I’ve got a damn good reason.

But I also don’t like to lie. I wasn’t sure about giving out my honest evaluation of John’s books, since he’s been known to pop by from time to time, but I was persuaded to put it up here.

To be honest, I know nothing about John’s sales record or anything like that. I don’t really pay attention to that stuff.

I’m just keen to endorse books that I’ve really enjoyed, books that resonated with me. Which is why I will be taking the books down from their new home on the top shelf next to the Rankin porn** and reading excerpts from John’s work at my next non-critique group meeting.

I would venture to say that John Rickards is currently one of the most under-appreciated rising stars in the crime fiction scene. I’m going to take a real step out here and tell you the truth: I think Rickards is going to come out with a book that will put him on the radar of every crime fiction reviewer and reader out there. I can’t say whether it’s going to be the next book, or the one after it, but I just have this sense of creative genius when reading. (I’m not comparing him to anyone else – I just find it astounding that there hasn’t been more buzz about him already.) I think the only thing that’s keeping Rickards from being a huge international bestseller is that people haven’t heard how good he is*.

There’s something about John’s writing that sort of gets under your skin, gets a hold of you, and pulls you into his world very convincingly. There were smells and sensations and emotions that his words evoked that I connected with. The writing permeated the senses.

What John does best though, IMHO, is write to the heart.

There is a sense of disappointment at the end of TTOG. It isn’t because the book was a letdown. It’s because the book is about loss. It was powerful and personal and there was a sense of the futility of it all. No matter what happened, it would never bring back what Alex Rourke had lost. Hit me in a similar way that To The Power of Three did. Chilling last lines that linger in your mind after you’ve closed the book and wiped your eyes.

The ending… I could so completely imagine that moment and it knocked me back.

And now, the worst thing about discovering new authors you like: I have to wait months for the next book. Unless John wants to send me a copy.

So I am now adding his next book to the list of 2006 releases I’m looking forward to. Right along with Dying Light and Relentless and A Field of Darkness.

It’s going to be a good year for books. Bad for my budget though.

* Well, we all know how good he is with some things.
*** Stop thinking that - that's not what I meant.

** Okay, if you've been reading my blog, you'll get the 'porn' comment. It all started with me saying that British male authors consistently take the top shelf in my house, and John giggling over the fact that 'top shelf' refers to porn in some parts of the world... And I wasn't worried about readers understanding that until people started linking to this post!

Hope there aren't too many terrible typos. I'm too tired to go over this again.


Stuart MacBride said...

"...I’d have to say there’s a lot more to John than we get to see..."

Yup, and most of it's unwashed.

Little bugger can certainly write though, can't he? Bastard.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yeah. And that would make you a bastard too.

John R. said...

Lots of things would make Stuart a bastard. Sure, there's the small matter of that knack for writing he's got. But there's also that thing he does with puppies every Halloween. And his little 'hobby' over at the local nursing home. And that time he got hold of that chimpanzee and, well...

As for everything else... aw, shucks. Made me come over all bashful, so you have. Now I owe you a drink at Harrogate.

Anonymous said...

Sandra, I have very little interest in the mystery genre. Before this post, that is. Now I want to read this book. Dang. More money. Oh well, off to Borders.

*psst! Don't tell John about the sale. Let's keep him pure and unspoilt. Why did I just use the British spelling? No idea. At all.*

Sandra Ruttan said...

John, I hope they sell gin by the pail.

Jason, the mystery genre has grown well beyond the days of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. There are some brilliant writers in the field.

Though most of it isn't as heartwarming as what you write, but a lot of it is incredibly thought-provoking social commentary. But John should know about more sales -then he owes me more drinks! There's going to be a party at Harrogate unlike they've seen before! Forget 2 am Kung Fu at the bar - we have a lot to celebrate!

Sarah said...

Not to sound like a tease...well OK, I will. But just wait till Book 3.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Sarah, that's cruel! Thank god I don't have time to read at the moment!!! Wait a second, what am I saying?

tambo said...

I need to get off my lazy butt and buy myself a Rickards. I am so woefully behind on my reading! Arrgh! But John is just so delightfully twisted it's got to be great.

Thanks for kicking me to get out and do that.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Hey, no problem tambo! I really enjoyed them.

John's delightfully twisted? Well, twisted, yes...

Vincent said...

A foray into the mind of John Rickards. What a horrible, horrible thought.

I still contend that his books present a much sanitised version of the John Rickards' mind (on the whole a good thing), but I agree that huge international bestsellerdom could well be on the cards.

Personally I think it'll come in the form of the Cthulhu Holmes omnibus, but you never know.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well Vincent, as long as I'm not on the receiving end of any of John's extra-curricular activities... He can keep the whips and chains for Stuart and the books.

Thanks for dropping by!