Thursday, May 17, 2007

John Sandford Does It Right

Everything we say is arguable. Probably. As a guy once told me when he was upset at something I'd done, "Opinions are like a*******: everyone has one and nobody else wants to be exposed to it." Which is kind of silly and since it applies to blogs, that guy's statement comes to mind. What an a******.

Anyway, in previous entries I've bitched about talented writers whose first two or three books are fresh, wonderful, and make one feel that modern fiction may not be so bad after all. But almost inevitably, they parlay the readership they've won with their initial brilliance into a mindless throng of steady readers slopping up each subsequent bland, formulaic book in whatever series they happen to be writing. Dead yuck. Way too early, the books have become extensions of the author's name, not a unique novel capable of standing on its own.

This leads you to that review line that I've heard over and over again: "It's not his/her best. Fans of the series would be better served to pick up an earlier book..." Sometimes there is no "best," all the books by a writer may leave you cold which is especially bothersome when there is a strong style or character that is appealing enough to warrant reading further.

All that being said, John Sandford is a writer who paradoxically seems to get better and better. He's written 17 books in his "Prey" series, 4 in his "Kidd" series, and 2 standalones. I read the first few "Prey" books, his "Kidd" books, then more "Prey" books, essentially letting him go for a few years and then bingeing to catch up. Early on I thought his books were glib, easy to read, but somehow unfulfilling. They were more realized than, say, an Elmore Leonard novel, which always leave me feeling the book was too thin, the reading experience stays too much on the surface and never takes me deep into the story.

And then a few years ago I realized that Sandford's not writing the same formula over and over again (arguably), his books are still easy to read yet are deep and immersive (arguably), and other bestselling writers should be learning from this guy.

Sandford's a master of misdirection: some books you know who the killer is immediately, in some you thnk you know immediately, some it comes out of the blue. In all of them, there's a strong psychological component, a procedural one, and a level of suspense and tension that should serve as a model for all those who are coasting along on the sales value of their name.

Sandford doesn't cheat the reader. His dialogue is spot on, funny where it needs to be, serious where appropriate, and never used as multi-page filler. If I ever meet the guy, I would ask him, "What makes you try harder with every book rather than phone it in like those other a*******?" You may not like his books, you may not like his characters; but Sandford is a writer in whom you can sense a passion for what he does. He's trying to write compelling books when with his name and past record he could easily coast along for years into the future. Good on ya, mate, and I wish there were more like you.

And that's my opinion, and my blog, and I'll keep my you know what to myself. Hmph.


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