On Being an Editor

blogWant to improve your writing? Become an editor.

Before you balk at this, hear me out.

As an editor, your primary job should be to improve the writer’s work. Regardless of its form, your task is to make it better, whether that means spotting plot holes, catching technical mistakes, or simply correcting typos. Ideally, you’ll do all these things and more. I’ve seen a few instances where I was able to suggest small things that added to the depth of the story, things like the way a character thinks of another, or just an explanation for why that character thinks that way. They’re small things, sure, but the small things add up to big things in the end. It’s a skill I’m still learning, and I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve an author’s story with these little tidbits, all without ruining the original intent or voice.

To be honest, when I first started, I didn’t feel qualified. How was I supposed to point out the weaknesses in another’s story when I had such a hard time finding them in my own? Who would even listen to me, an author with all of one book published, and that one not exactly famous? So, as assistant digital media director for Oghma, I volunteered to do the occasional fantasy, science fiction, or crime fiction, since those were my areas of “expertise.”

But apparently I was gooder better than I thought I was, because people started asking for my editing. I made a somewhat lateral move to assistant editorial director—I found I was much happier there—and then became publishing director. But I’m still an editor.

And it’s helped my writing immensely.

Why? Because as I edited, I became more and more aware of things that needed changing to make the writing better in other’s works. picardThings like passive voice that doesn’t really look like passive voice: The man was standing by the door. That’s kinda lazy. The man stood by the door. See how much more forceful that is? And yet, it’s something we as writers do all the time. I see it in published book after published book.

Another one: He began to walk down the road.

Okay. He began. Did he keep it up?

No, make it: He walked down the road (and even that’s lazy. Tell us how he walked, not just that he walked: He strolled, he marched, something like that).

Of course, there are downsides, too. As publishing director, I’m part of the acquisitions process, so I get to see all the new manuscripts. That means there are times when I read something and want to send back not just a rejection letter, but a cease and desist, telling them to please stay away from keyboards, to stick to writing grocery lists. At least they’ll get some recompense for that.

As a writer, it’s not easy to tell folks you can’t use their work. You know what it is to dream like that, and if you’ve any experience in this field, you know that some writers simply give up after a few rejections. Yes, for some, that’s probably for the best. But you’ll also come across those who have potential, even if you don’t have time to bring it out in them. (Which is why we here at Oghma actually have a Willy-Wonka-bad-writer-memedevelopmental editor. When we see someone that’s not quite up to par but looks like they could be with some coaching, we like to give them that chance. We remember the dream, after all. Heck, we’re still living it.)

But this is more than compensated for by those undiscovered gems you come across, those works that make you wonder how any agent or editor in their right minds could have rejected this. You sit and you stare at the words on the screen (we take only electronic submissions here), and you wonder why this isn’t already on a bestseller list somewhere. But then you sit up and smile, because, hey, we’ve got dibs on this one. Give it an A+ and send it through the rest of the submissions process (I’m just the gatekeeper, not the final arbiter. That belongs to the board.)

No, editing isn’t for everybody. For instance, you need to know how to write first, at least in my opinion. And you need to make sure you’re up on the policies of your publisher (natch). And you know that feeling you get as a writer when you send off your manuscript for submission? I get that when I send one back to the writer with my recommendations in it. Will they understand what I’m trying to do? Will it make sense? Can they see that none of this is meant to denigrate them in any way?

So far I’ve had good responses to my editing, but you never know. There’s always a first time for everything, and I’m dreading getting that author who’s hard to work with, no matter how much his or her writing might need it. We’ve had a few of those here, but I’ve been lucky enough to avoid them so far.

And if you don’t want to do it professionally, you can still join a writing group and/or be a beta reader for someone else.48191213

It’s like the old saying goes: You learn best by teaching.

It’s true of writing. I’ve learned more by editing than I ever did as only a writer.


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Book or Show?

Dexter is DeadAt this writing, the book I’m reading is Dexter is Dead, the last volume in the Dexter Morgan series by Jeff Lindsay, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Dexter ends his career in the books as opposed to in the TV series.

Now, full disclosure here: I’ve only seen up through something like Season 4 of the TV series, but I know how far off the show veers from the books. Only Season 1 has any resemblance to the original material and, while I like what I’ve seen well enough, they don’t compare to the books. The show is like Dexter Lite, in my opinion. The dark humor isn’t there, the bitter irony, the idea that Dexter is a sociopath and that’s all there is to it. There isn’t a cure, and he doesn’t even view himself as being human. He just does his best to act like one to blend in.

Reading this got me to thinking about another book-series-turned-television-series, Game of Thrones. Like Dexter, Game of Thrones is getting ahead of the books. Dexter ended a couple years ago now, and Jeff Lindsay is only now ending it in his books. And of course, the frustration a lot of fans feel with George RR Martin is the fodder of a lot of websites—not to mention memes.

It think the frustration with GoT is a little more palpable because the show, until recently, stuck to the source material much more closely than Dexter did. From what I’ve read, Jeff Lindsay was a consultant to the show for all of one season—the first—and even that one didn’t follow the book exactly. In fact, it veered off in some significant ways.

I don’t expect shows to follow the book to the letter. As even Mr. Martin himself has said, they’re two different mediums, and things that’ll work in a book won’t necessarily translate well on the screen, and vice versa. Books are more contemplative, more able to put you inside characters’ heads, while shows can only approximate the thought processes of a character through action or, worse, the expressions and actions of the actor, which can be easily misinterpreted. And that’s just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Of course, one could argue that the recent divergence on GoT is worse because they have outlines from Mr. Martin as to where he intends the books to go, and he is an GoTexecutive producer on the show. Of course, outlines aren’t fleshed-out scenes with all their innuendo and flash. If it is that detailed, you might as well go on and write the scene itself and dispense with the outline.

I suspect the creators/producers of Dexter flinched—they didn’t think the darker Dexter of the books would appeal to a viewing audience. Maybe they’re right, though I’d argue the success of the books proves them wrong. Of course, there are a lot more people watching TV than reading books, and I have to wonder how many people who watched Dexter—or who are watching GoT, for that matter—picked up any of the books.

But for those of us who do read the books… well, we can get double enjoyment out of this trend. We get to see where the author took the original material, and compare it with how Hollywood treated their subject. Two what-ifs on one character—or characters, in the case of GoT.

Did not readThat can be good or bad. I understand the finale to Dexter was very unsatisfying to a lot of people, and I admit it’s got me wondering if I want to finish watching the series when the books are so much better and more satisfying.

And that’s the other good thing about all this: if we don’t like the show, we don’t have to watch it, especially when it’s on a pay channel like Showtime or HBO, as these two series are/were. We don’t have to buy the DVDs or devote more time to a show we no longer like if we don’t want to.

We can, instead, reserve that time for reading the books we already love.



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Censoring Character Development

Sometime back, HBO’s Game of Thrones aired an episode that caused some controversy. Of course, this isn’t the first time the show has done this, but apparently some critics took it upon themselves to decide they knew what was in store for the show better than the writers do and decried an incident in the episode as unnecessary.

I haven’t seen the episode. I’m slowly catching up on this show, but it’s not easy. I’m catching up by checking each season out from my local library, and the waiting list is long. So I’m only now going to be able to watch season four after today (July 9). I haven’t read all the books, either, though I started on them way back when the first volume came out. If memory serves, it and the first volume of the Wheel of Time series came out about the same time, and since I love epic fantasy, I grabbed both up.

I long ago gave up on the Wheel of Time. Far too many books. I can’t sustain my interest that long, especially when he overemphasized the whole battle of the sexes thing, in my opinion. I gave up somewhere around halfway through Book Five. And no, don’t comment urging me to finish the series. Ain’t happenin.

scumbag-george-r-r-martin-memeOf course, the problem with the Song of Ice and Fire series is that George RR Martin has been writing them so slowly that it has its own form of frustration. Where Robert Jordan fluffed Wheel of Time with the battle of the sexes thing entirely too much, Mr. Martin seems happy to keep his fans waiting, all in the name of “getting it right.” As a writer, I understand that. But getting it a little wrong would be preferable to not getting it at all. Mr. Martin isn’t a spring chicken anymore, and he needs to keep that in mind.

End rant.

What I really want to talk about here, though, is the aforementioned episode. In it, Sansa Stark, eldest daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark, is raped off-screen. Now, as I understand it, Sansa is being groomed, or so many speculate, at least, to be the Queen of the North. I want you to keep that title in mind.

She’s being groomed, I’m assuming, not so much by any particular person or group—though I supposed that’s possible, considering the rest of her family is either dead or scattered to the four winds in a world rife with factions vying for the Iron Throne—but by life itself. She’s lost her father, her mother, her brothers, and her sister (as far as she knows). At the beginning of the series, Sansa is a romantic. When she has an opportunity to journey to King’s Landing, she sees it as an opportunity to meet princes and knights and take part in the wonders of court life, never dreaming of the rude awakening she has in store for her.

Sansa’s story is that of a journey not only from the cold of Winterfell to the warmth of King’s Landing, but her opposite journey from that of a warm, romantic girl to that of a cold, practical woman. Or, again, so I assume. Mr. Martin has a way of surprising us, as do the writers of the show, so who knows?george-r-r-martin-writer-cinema-producer-mass-killer_o_1996013

Of course, thanks to Mr. Martin’s slow pace at writing the books, the show is veering away from their course out of necessity. So the show’s writers might have a different idea in mind for Sansa than Mr. Martin does.

But whatever the case, the critics who raised the hue and cry over an off-screen rape really should keep their mouths shut. Their primary criticism seemed to stem from the fact that, in their opinions, Sansa has grown as much as she can as a character. She’s hardened, not at all the girl who traveled south from Winterfell, and having her raped after all the other things she’s been through was just too much. Besides, it was offensive. I have a feeling this last counted for more than their supposed critique of the forming of her character.

Unfortunately, that’s a little too much like the apocryphal quote attributed to Charles H Duell, Commissioner of the Patent Office in 1899, when he said Congress might as well close down his office as “everything that can be invented has been invented.” Nice thought, Mr. Duell, but a bit shortsighted.

I just want to tell them to get a grip.

Yes, it seems contradictory, but we must keep in mind that these are fictional characters, and yet we must make readers care about them as thought they were real. Will we, as authors, need to start putting a disclaimer on our stories that no real people were harmed in the writing of this book? Do the critics think the general population is so stupid they don’t know the difference between what they see on TV and what’s real?

my-feelings-towards-george-rr-have-changed-slightlyThe development of characters in a story, just as with us in real life, is a complex and daunting task. As writers, we owe it to our readers to make our characters as real and authentic as our skill allows us to do and then some. The world of A Song of Ice and Fire is brutal. It’s not the world of, say, The Princess Bride or a Disney movie. It’s brutal, and cruel, and the idea that Sansa could have her romantic notions even as she grew up in the cold north is something of a miracle in and of itself. That she could hang onto such fanciful notions in a world such as this means she’ll have to have some really nasty things happen to her in order to disabuse her completely of her notions.

Being the victim of rape—on top of all the other things she’s had to endure—is more of the writers forging of her new outlook in life. Now, the thing to me is, this could go one of two ways (and probably more, since others out there can see other outcomes for this): either Sansa Stark will become a cold, ruthless queen who will manage to bring Westeros—or at least the north—together in time to resist the Wildlings from beyond the Wall, or she’ll unite the nations when she remembers what it is to be a victim and she’ll be able to rally the common people behind her cause, thus winning enough support to protect the Seven Kingdoms.

Or, knowing George RR Martin, it could be some other outcome altogether. He’s good at surprising us, isn’t he?

Regardless of the final outcome for Sansa Stark, critics who have not seen the entire picture need to hold their criticisms until they’ve seen the end result of all this. Until then, they’re wasting my time and yours with their petty protests, and contributing in a small—or perhaps large—way to the censoring of creativity, because writers will fear taking their characters where they need to go out of concern of some uninformed opinion of their work.

And that would be a far larger offense than the rape of a fictional character.ef2205c9ecccef6fb26e57fef98accb3


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Long Books

HuffingtonPost.com recently published an article by Brooke Warner entitled “3 Good Reasons to Keep Your Book Shorter than 80,000 Words.” The reasons are as follows: 1) Attention spans are shorter, 2) Overly long books are a red flag to agents and editors, and 3) The longer the book, the more expensive it is to produce.

20f12-readingI think Point 1 is pretty much self-explanatory, but I’d like to single put what seems to be the central thesis of it in the article: Successful long books are the exception, not the rule. She goes on to cite examples from such authors as JK Rowling and Ken Follet, followed by this statement: “…most readers simply don’t have the attention span for long narratives. So if you’re just starting, aim short; if you’re running long and are pre-publication (and you can stomach it), work with an editor to cut cut cut. (emphasis added)”

Ms Warner is comparing apples and oranges here. Ken Follet and JK Rowling are not good examples of “authors [who] are the exception.” They are long-time veterans and bestselling writers, and they made their bones with long novels. Some, in Ms Rowling’s case, got longer and longer.

I will admit there’s some merit to the idea of making your first published novel shorter, but I would also contend that, on the whole, this article is New York-centric, or perhaps Manhattan myopic. You’ll see what I mean as this post progresses.

My first published novel is over 106,000 words. The one coming out next year is over 90,000 words. Both novels are—and here’s the key, a quote I’m hearing from every author I know—just the right length for the story being told. My second novel is cut down from its original length considerably. In fact, by the time I finished it, it was long enough for two novels (the second half will be my third crime novel), and that’s after cutting some 14,000 words from the original manuscript. I ended up with one 96,000-word novel and one 89,000-word sequel.

Bear with me here.

The second point Ms Warner makes is that long novels are red flags to editors and agents.

Well, yeah, they probably are in New York. And anyone who bothers to keep up with the publishing scene knows what’s going on there. Fights with Amazon over pricing. Books sitting in warehouses unsold. Publishing houses losing money. Advances going down or disappearing altogether. And I’m sure there are more sad stories I’m not aware of.

So, yeah, they don’t want to see long novels from first-timers. Why? Because they’re schizophrenic. Or something like that. In essence, the Big Five are always on the lookout for the next Stephen King, the next Gillian Flynn, the next JK Rowling. Or so they say. The reality is, they’re looking for that author, but they’re so afraid to take a chance on anyone being that author that they pass up what could be bestsellers because… they want to focus on the next novels from Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, JK Rowling, et al. In other words, they want the next big thing, but they’re afraid to take the risks necessary to make sure people know about the next big thing.

And that’s because of Reason 3: the longer the book, the more expensive it is to produce.

If you’re publishing with the New York model, that’s true. The New York publishers make big print runs. Essentially, they take a chance on every novel they publish. So, if you’re on the fortunate list of perennial bestsellers that includes the people I’ve mentioned above, that’s not a big deal. Though he may have fallen off recently, Stephen King is still guaranteed to sell big. I doubt Scribner has to worry too much about getting returns on his books.

Ms Warner goes on to finally acknowledge the world outside New York in this point—by citing self-publishing. Yes, if your book is long, you’re going to have to keep the price as low as possible in order to be competitive. But what she fails to mention is that many self-publishers go the e-book route because it’s essentially free, and it’s becoming the wave of the future. She also cites print on demand, another trend that’s gaining popularity.

She completely ignores the indie publishers, and that’s where the myopia shows itself. I can’t speak for other indie publishers, but at Oghma, we’re not concerned with book length. As long as it’s a quality story, we’ll stand behind the author and pay the set-up fees to produce a larger book. In fact, we’ve already done so with Beyond the Moon by Velda Brotheron and Type and Cross by Staci Trolio. And we’ll have more long books coming out in the future.

Most indie publishers use the print on demand that Ms Warner talks about in her article—the one she cites as the wave of the future. And she’s right. She just doesn’t cover all the bases when it comes to the world of publishing these days.

Of course, if you go with an indie publisher, you’re going to have to go with whatever they want. If they want you to cut your book considerably, then that’s what you’ll have to do. Also, listen to your editor. We work hard to make your book the best it can be, and if we see long sections that really don’t advance the plot or are irrelevant to the story in some way—or can just be done in a way that makes them shorter and more concise—we’re not asking you to cut it in order to torment you or make your life harder. We want you to put out the best product possible, and that almost always entails cutting something, even if it’s just a few words here and there. Chances are, if you’ve done your homework and learned your craft the way you should, there won’t be a lot of cutting involved.

Besides, we’re all going to write some novels long and some short. If you want to persevere on the New York route and want to attract a lot of attention, push one of your shorter novels as your first work. My first published novel wasn’t the first one I’d written. Far from it. It wasn’t even the first crime novel I wrote after embarking on that genre. It was the second. I was still revising the first (the one I mentioned above that ended up becoming two novels), so I decided to make Spree—a nice standalone story-my first published work.

The final decision, of course, is up to you. But if you want my opinion, if you’re gonna dream, dream big. And if that means making your first novel a longer one (I didn’t even touch on the way Ms Warner totally ignores taking genre into account), then go for it.

If it’s good, they’ll want it.



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Learning from Stephen King

If you read this blog with any kind of regularity you know I’m a Stephen King fan. Not so much of his recent works—Duma Key is one I have a hard time remembering the title, let alone the story, and Under the Dome was something of a disappointment as well—but when it comes to his older stuff… well, that’s where my heart is.

The-Stand-Book-CoverFirst off, there’s The Stand, probably his magnum opus, at least in my opinion. It is a close second, and a novel I love to revisit on occasion. And ’Salem’s Lot will always hold a special place in my heart as it’s the first Stephen King novel I ever read—after seeing the second half of the miniseries back in the day and wanting to know what happened in the first half. In our book-poor county, I had a heck of a time finding a copy, but once I’d read it I was hooked.

There’s no way I can count up the pleasurable hours I’ve spent lost in Mr. King’s worlds, from his Dark Tower series, to The Dark Half and his short story collections (he’s one of the few authors I’ll read when it comes to shorts), his words played a big part in my decision to be a writer.

Now, whatever you may think of Mr. King and his works, I think we can agree on one thing: he’s a good benchmark when it comes to a writer’s dreams of success. He’s a regular bestseller, and even he has lamented on more than one occasion that he could probably publish his laundry list and it’d be a hit.

Mr. King is good for inspiration, and I won’t dissuade you from reading him. He knows how to string words together in a way that usually makes you want to keep reading (I’m in the middle of Finders Keepers, his newest, as I write this, and it has me reluctant to put it down), andfinders keepers his nonfiction On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is pretty much at the top of my list when it comes to recommending books, well, on writing.

But you don’t want to follow Mr. King’s methods too closely.

As Inigo Montoya said, let me ’splain.

Stephen King began his writing career in a day when the standards were different. For instance, author intrusion was an accepted way of storytelling that it would be hard to get away with today. The literary landscape has changed, and I won’t get into an argument as to whether it’s for the better or not, because I can see it from both sides (note to self: this might make a good post in the future).

Back in the seventies, when Mr. King and his contemporaries such as Dean Koontz and Peter Straub (neither of which I’ve ever been able to get into nearly as much as I did Mr. King) started their careers, author intrusion was normal, even expected. Let me give you an example from page 126 of Finders Keepers:

Pete lay awake for a long time that night. Not long after, he made the biggest mistake of his life.

It’s that last sentence I want you to pay attention to, because it breaks deep POV, and that’s a no-no these days. Writers like Mr. King can get away with it for a few reasons. His readers expect it. It’s how he learned to write, and he became a bestselling author writing that way, so why fix what ain’t broke? And probably most important, see the aforementioned reference to his laundry list. It don’t matter what the boy writes, his fans is gonna buy it.

Why change?

But I have a news flash: You’re not Stephen King. Or Dean Koontz. Or Peter Straub. You don’t have decades of bestselling books on your résumé. Your name isn’t a virtual guarantee of being on the bestseller list.

You don’t got clout, man.

foreshadowingI know, too, why Stephen King does things like he did in the example above. It’s a form of foreshadowing that heightens the tension a bit. You’re given a tidbit that bodes ill for the character, and that’s why we read books, isn’t it? To see what happens to these poor people and how they deal with it. And we really want Mr. King’s characters to get out of their predicaments because his strength is in his characters. Story is almost second in importance in a Stephen King book. We care about the characters because Mr. King rounds them out so well we can’t help but care about them—even the bad guys, in a lot of cases.

But in today’s publishing atmosphere, if this was his debut novel, an editor would tell Mr. King to go back and find another way to tell us that foreshadowing detail, one that doesn’t tell us something Pete couldn’t possibly know. Because, as much as that little detail heightens the tension, Pete can’t know it, so you can’t tell it to us that way. Mr. King can, because he got that clout I mentioned above.

The clout you ain’t got none of.

And that means you can’t get away with it, unless you find some old-school editor, and I think there must be a lot of them out there, from what I’m seeing in some published works.

And here’s the thing: if you use deep POV properly, the fact Pete doesn’t know he’s about to make the biggest mistake of his life can be used to heighten tension just as much as Mr. King’s little snippet of author intrusion does. One method might be to drop little hints, small clues, that the character (and, by extension, the reader) would see as signs of danger if only he were paying enough attention. And even if the reader sees these things and Pete doesn’t, it still heightens the tension because the reader is screaming at him to wake up and pay attention already!

There are some other authors who break these rules as well—James Clavell and Mario Puzo come to mind, as they do what is commonly called head-hopping, a huge no-noShogun these days—but you’ll notice they, too, are from the seventies.

I’m not suggesting you can’t learn anything from these authors. You can learn from any author, and there’s some merit to the argument you can learn more from a bad author than from a good one (if you can get through the book, that is), because a good one makes fewer mistakes. But you don’t want to mimic them too closely (for one, that would be plagiarism) or you’ll be making mistakes that won’t fly with most publishers these days.

And, hey, like I said, Finders Keepers is a good book so far. Last thing you want to do is ignore pleasurable reading, and there are a lot of good things you can learn from Mr. King. Such as excellent characterization.

Just don’t follow in their footsteps exactly.



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All Apologies

Sorry I’ve been so remiss with posts lately. Seems my blog muse has taken a vacation, but I think I found where the sucker is staying and I’ll have him back soon.

Meanwhile, hope your summer’s going great! (I know, it’s not officially summer yet but… have you been outside lately?)

imisread-sorry_36a209274b6b2c5e0e8478db93ec359c (1)

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Skies of Ash

Rachel Howzell Hall is a time thief.skies of ash

If the name sounds a bit familiar, it’s because I reviewed her first Detective Elouise Norton novel, Land of Shadows, last year. The book blew me away, and I’ve been waiting very impatiently on the follow-up. The wait has also been somewhat apprehensive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a book by an author and was thrilled to discover them, only to have subsequent novels disappoint me.

That’s not the case with the new book in the series, Skies of Ash.

To be honest, it didn’t catch me immediately. In Land of Shadows, we had what looked to be the makings of a serial killer (at least to me) because of the nature of the crime. In Skies of Ash, the crime doesn’t seem quite as sexy at the outset: a woman and her two children killed in a house fire, the husband/father in the hospital after firefighters tackled him to prevent him from going into the burning house to rescue his family. And I think, in the hands of anyone else, this setup could have turned into something either dreadful or far too predictable.

But if this book taught me anything, it’s to expect the totally unexpected from Rachel Howzell Hall.

I’m not gonna give up any spoilers, though I am gonna reiterate what I said when I reviewed Land of Shadows: get this book and read it.

The protagonist, Elouise Norton—or Lou—still has an apparently philandering husband, who she has forgiven yet again. She’s still stuck with a cowboy partner who really doesn’t get her. And she has friends who, while they got her back, maybe nag at her a little too much—mostly about said philandering husband. And it doesn’t help that one of those friends is also a reporter who tries to get Lou to give up details she’s not at liberty to divulge.

Just another day at the office for our intrepid detective (yes, I went there).

But there are differences. Lou’s husband, Greg, is showing signs of jealousy. For some reason, he feels threatened by her partner. Of course, my thought when I read scenes where he’s razzing her for this working relationship was He seems to me to be protesting a bit too much. And there is a man she’s attracted to, though he’s best friends with the husband in the case and may well know things he’s not telling her.

land of shadowsOn top of that, her colleagues suspect perhaps her domestic troubles are prejudicing her on this case, making her suspect the husband when it’s pretty obvious he’s too grief-stricken to be the murderer.

Especially when the evidence for murder is circumstantial, at best.

But Lou is, if nothing else, determined to get the bottom of this case, and the more layers she strips away, the stranger it all becomes. Maybe the murder isn’t as sexy at the outset as in the first novel, but this case works at you in others ways, worms its way into you consciousness until you have no choice but follow it all the way through. Which I did in about two days.

Ms. Hall does what I love most in a mystery: she makes the case have an effect on the main character. Just as Michael Connelly does with Harry Bosch and Robert Crais does with Elvis Cole, the ramifications change their lives, make the cases more than just another day at work for them. There are things in the case that parallel their personal lives in some way, and there are aspects of their jobs that they can’t leave in the office. These stories go far beyond mere mysteries or police procedurals. We get to see the humans behind the cases, and we come to care for them and empathize with the effects that witnessing humanity at its worse can have on the investigators.

They’re not getting through these things unscathed.

And that makes us love these people, makes us root for them as we never would for Sherlock Holmes. We want Sherlock to solve the case. But we want Harry and Elvis and Lou to triumph, not just over the case, but over the problems in their lives as well. And because they often fail—just as we do—we root for them that much more.

Ms. Hall steps outside the boundaries of the genre with these books, and that makes me a fan, not just a reader.

I only have one problem: Ms. Hall, if you’re reading this, where’s the next one?


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