Posted by Sarah Andre
I read voraciously- you probably do too, and it suddenly struck me this week (after thousands of books) that I have an instinctive 4-tiered rating system.
1) There’s the poorly written story I stop reading when it takes too much effort or I find I’m dreading picking up my Kindle. (Dread should never be associated with reading novels!)
2) There are the stories that entertain me all the way through, but it’s still easy enough to put the book down and perform critical human functions like eating and bathing.
3) Then there are the amazing authors who consistently capture me into their world. You know the kind: the writers who make writing look easy. My impulsive story-craft critic never rears it’s ugly head…not even once. These are the stories you burn your family’s dinner trying to read ‘just one more page.’
4) And finally- the handful of authors (and I mean one hand, folks!) who are SO talented that I only pick up their stories when I’ve ‘earned it.’ Perhaps I finished a manuscript. Or I’m finally on vacation with nothing but that story in front of me. I begin them thinking it’s the 3rd-tier I just described. I say goodbye to my husband, because nothing will pull me from the novel. But the plot is profound, the characters and setting are so real that reading the story becomes an experience. In this 4th tier, the further I read, the more I begin to SLOW DOWN. Weird huh?
Last night I finished CRIMINAL, by Karin Slaughter, one of the top police-procedural thriller writers of our time. If she were in my 3rd tier I’d have finished the book in a day-and-a-half. But her phenomenal skill at story weaving puts her in the 4th tier. CRIMINAL took me a week to finish. Let me explain, because it’s so counter intuitive:
When an author is that enthralling I don’t want to be without the story. Those characters enrich my life. I also know I won’t get another new work for a year or more (all 5 of my top-tier authors rarely publish more than once a year.) Therefore, the more the story progresses and the more my soul has completely drowned in the author’s world, the more I’ll only read a chapter or two in one sitting. Miserly nibbling away, because I’m already sorry I’m this far into it. And maybe during the epic final battle (what we writers call ‘the black moment’) I’ll put that book down for a whole day. It’s masochistic, I know.
Ironically, I don’t tend to enjoy thrillers and I hate scary movies! Let me be frank: the thriller part of Slaughter’s Will Trent series is beyond horrific. Her antagonists’ twisted evil defies my imagination- and probably yours too. It’s airplanes-crashing-into-buildings shocking. It simply never occurred to you that a person could think up something this horrific to harm others. And Slaughter is 8 books in, folks. Will Trent and his female partner, female boss and girlfriend make up the gist of the story, but that’s 8 villains so heinous, so much more evil than Hannibal Lecter, that I guarantee they’ll each blow your mind. Nerd alert: It’s the kind of horror that requires me to watch three Bewitched sitcoms before sleeping, so her villain won’t seep into my dreams. 🙂
Why on earth would I stick her in the 4th tier? Because her hero, Will Trent is so mind-bendingly flawed and so determined to move beyond his disabilities, his past and his faults. His boss has such incredible depth and secrets that in 9 books (I’m including COP TOWN) you aren’t even close to figuring her out- and you know it! His girlfriend is stoic and beautiful and has held up under massive human suffering. It’s the realism of these characters’ lives and their good-trumps-evil spirit that make me slow down and drag the book out.
Initially I did not read her series in order, but I recommend you do. The Will-Trent-experience is far more enriching when you know what happened and what character traits and secrets were revealed in the previous novel. Below is the sequence of the series. And in her brilliant creativity she’s begun weaving the boss, Amanda Wagner’s backstory within the series and as stand-alones, so I’m adding COP TOWN in as a must-read too. Will Trent isn’t in it, but you need to know this part of Amanda to make CRIMINAL that much more of a 4th tier experience!
Name your top tier authors! One commenter will win a $10 Amazon gift card. (My way of paying for that author’s next book!)
WILL TRENT SERIES (links to each book on her website.)