As far as I'm concerned, Jeffery Deaver is the master of plot twists. His short story collections Twisted and More Twisted are packed with brilliantly...moreAs far as I'm concerned, Jeffery Deaver is the master of plot twists. His short story collections Twisted and More Twisted are packed with brilliantly crafted gems, and his on-going Lincoln Rhyme series has more stings in the tale than a rattlesnake. So I was excited to see what he'd do with The October List, a thriller told quite literally backwards. We open on chapter 36, with a frantic mother awaiting news of her kidnapped daughter. The door opens, revealing not her rescuers but the kidnapper himself, wielding a gun and a deranged grin. How did it come to this? We're about to find out, in reverse.
Although it takes a long time for the full picture to become clear (the game changes constantly, and the kaleidoscope doesn't come to rest as a fully-formed image until you've read all the way through to chapter one), the pace is never anything less than frenetic. I finished the book in around a day, and kept reading for several hours after I really should have been sleeping (when you physically can't hold the book open in bed, it's probably time to call it a night.)
Does the gimmick produce satisfying results? Yes and... hmm. The format does lend itself to some difficulties. You know the piece of proofreading advice, that if you read a document backwards you're more likely to catch mistakes? While there aren't mistakes here as such (ultimately, everything ties together beautifully), I think the problem with starting from a place of complete bewilderment is that I never really fully trusted anyone, nor took any information at face value. When the revelations come, they're more of the 'ah, that makes sense of that!' variety than the sudden sharp shock of being completely surprised.
When working with a regular chronology, Deaver is fully adept at misdirection and sleight of hand, techniques that I think this format fundamentally makes more difficult. I'm definitely not saying I guessed the resolution in advance, but I also wouldn't say I was miles from the ballpark. There are times Deaver's caught me from another continent entirely, so this wasn't necessarily in the same league.
That said, I think this will definitely bear a repeat reading, perhaps in reverse this time, to really catch all the subtle clues laid throughout. It's probably only a shade over half the length of most of his other books, so it wouldn't surprise me if this was the intention. I've quickly re-read the first (last?) chapter, and the additional depth and nuance once you know what's really going on is brilliant. As is the contents list at the back - I actually laughed out loud at how clever he'd been in places with the chapter illustrations.
Overall, while I wasn't completely blown away by The October List, I do think Deaver's writing here is very, very clever, and I'm looking forward to going through it again when it's not quite so fresh. For readers unfamiliar with JD, it does take a while to get in to - it was probably sixty pages or so before I stopped being completely bewildered, and maybe as much as another hundred before I was really rolling along - because of course, telling a story backwards does run the risk of making it choppy, disjointed and frustrating. My advice would be just to trust that he knows full-well what he's doing and that it will all pay off eventually. And enjoy!(less)
Important upfront disclosure: The Shining is by far my least favourite Stephen King novel. (I got a touch grumpy about it in my review".) It's the onl...moreImportant upfront disclosure: The Shining is by far my least favourite Stephen King novel. (I got a touch grumpy about it in my review".) It's the only King tale I've ever rated a solitary 1 out of 5, and as such I wasn't that excited about its sequel, Doctor Sleep. That said, some of his recent works have been really, truly excellent (11/22/63, Joyland) and so of course I still had it in my hands on publication day. While it's not one of my favourites, nor do I think it will prove to be especially memorable, it was still a serviceable 500 pages that I had fun delving through.
We meet up with Dan Torrence - The Shining's five-year-old protagonist and possessor of multiple supernatural abilities - several decades down the line. Now an alcoholic and all-round waste-of-space, Dan almost immediately hits rock bottom and spends the next several hundred pages engaged in a redemption arc I was initially dubious about, but which King ultimately managed to pull off.
Any quibbles I had with the novel are largely the same I have with many of King's works - chiefly that for a while, the whole thing turned into a bit of a boys-club romp (when there's a thirteen-year-old girl with her life on the line, it's not really excusable to cut her mother out for a hundred pages at a time while her dad, family doctor, psychic-shining-friend and random-train-driver have all the fun). Abra (said thirteen-year-old) lacked authenticity to me, and scenes in which she swapped bodies with Dan were especially bizarre.
There's a fairly substantial "twist" towards the home stretch which left me somewhat underwhelmed, and while King repeatedly has Dan brush aside the coincidence of it all, it felt unfortunately contrived to me. However, all this aside it was still a fast, well-paced read with villains as heinous as their backstory was complex. I enjoyed reading it despite my dislike of The Shining, and while the climax seemed over a little too swiftly, I was overall satisfied with the way things panned out.
(My biggest gripe is mainly that the US cover is way cooler than the UK one. Unfair!)(less)
I don't think The Ersatz Elevator is the breakaway point of ASoUE - I'd peg that more as being The Vile Village or The Hostile Hospital - but it is th...moreI don't think The Ersatz Elevator is the breakaway point of ASoUE - I'd peg that more as being The Vile Village or The Hostile Hospital - but it is the point at which you can tell the game is about to change, the rules are about to be re-written and the familiar formula abandoned, and that's an exciting thing. It's wonderful to re-read a book knowing exactly what will happen and still hope for a different outcome. The general well-meaning patheticness of Jerome is almost painful - you want to root for him, but he just won't. quite. let. you. Big mysteries come into play here, and as a book of transitions - from the familiar to the unknown, from few questions to all too many questions - TEE is a successful bridge.(less)
I think I would have enjoyed this more had I not taken over nine months to plough through it, and had I read more of the physical copy rather than lis...moreI think I would have enjoyed this more had I not taken over nine months to plough through it, and had I read more of the physical copy rather than listening to the audiobook. I normally like listening to King on audio because it doesn't demand my full attention - it's easy listening that I can multi-task through, which suits me perfectly. With The Tommy-knockers however, there was a lot of description that I struggled to parse - inventions and action and the like that meant, if I let my mind wander even a fraction, I got lost.
The story at its centre had a lot of promise. Alcoholic, suicidal poet Jim Gardner delays his own demise to come to the aid of his best friend and erstwhile lover Bobbi Anderson, who has turned distinctly odd since tumbling over the lip of a long-buried ship in the woods. It's easy to tell this is early King. Here, there's little of the finesse of his later world-building novels. We spend hundreds of pages with individual characters, to the point that it's easy to tire of them before the scope flitters onto another individual, then another, then another. By the time the whole town comes together under the force of encroaching invasion from within, it's maybe halfway through the novel, and for me, the whole thing became an exercise in forcing myself to keep going and hoping it would all pay off. I'm not sure it did, not satisfactorily enough anyway, but again, I might feel differently had I actually read it and not kept half an ear on it.
I think it comes down to this: I loved Gard. I loved Bobbi. I loved Ev Hillman, David and Hilly Brown, and I loved Ruth McCausland. But the story itself? Eh... not so much.(less)
This is a borderline 2/3, though throughout the first half it was probably a 1. The characters in this book are infuriating. Sophie Hannah has some id...moreThis is a borderline 2/3, though throughout the first half it was probably a 1. The characters in this book are infuriating. Sophie Hannah has some ideas that sound great in blurbs, but then bogs them down with her frankly awful, loathsome detective characters who could both drown in a ditch and leave the literary world a better place IMO. I think the plot in this one might have been a bit too ambitious. It all paid off nicely in the end and rewarded my perseverance, which is why I eventually settled on a 3, but there were many many points in the beginning/middle where I considered giving up on it entirely because it was just so convoluted and irritatingly smug. It's one thing to dangle a massive secret in front of your readers from page one, it's quite another to keep re-iterating it over and over again without taking them any nearer to any sense of understanding. Still, it was all resolved satisfactorily in the end. I'll definitely think long and hard before starting another Spilling CID book though.(less)