The Nameless Horror

Reviews: INTO THE WOODS and THREE USES OF THE KNIFE

The holidays are a time of year for gathering with family, huddling against the onset of winter, and apparently reading books about story structure, a subject which I’m well aware is 95% wank and largely instinctive anyway, but still something I find interesting.

Into The Woods (John Yorke)

The approach taken by former Life On Mars (and many others) writer, drama commissioning guy for C4, et al. John Yorke is a little different to many of his contemporaries in so much as he claims not to be pushing a particular structure (“3 acts or none!”, “Give me a Hero’s Journey or give me death!”, etc.) but looking at the root shape underlying most (Western; it’s never stated, because sadly it generally gets ignored, but there are other approaches elsewhere) storytelling through history, regardless of how it’s broken down, what type of story it is, or what medium it appears in. He also goes into the why of this shape (though at nothing like the length you’re led to believe; it’s the last 20 pages out of 230), what it says about/how it’s shaped by our psychology, and, interestingly, why it almost automatically dooms series writing with developing characters to around three outings at most.

On the way, he covers the evolution of the “standard” forms from Ancient Greece, the five-act theatrical standard and how that arose from candle length and audience comfort (the need, then, for regular breaks), then three-act and how that came with gas/electric light and better seating, via Campbell, Vogler, and all the exceptions and variances throughout.

As a writing manual, it’s good, particularly on the character side. I particularly like the emphasis on needing a good antagonist (in whichever form that comes), and why they need to be there. The difference in writing series characters - tinged slightly gratingly by unfortunate terms like “two-dimensional” and “genre writing” that aren’t actually as loaded in context but which I imagine would easily put people’s backs out - and the perils involved are also something I’ve not seen before in a book of this type. His history of screenwriting theory and trends is thorough and engaging (and, if you’re writing in the field today, necessary).

There are some quibbles. The required disclaimer, repeated on occasion, that there will always be exceptions to any rule makes the advice woollier than it might be, I’m not sure there isn’t a bunch of “A=B because B=A” reasoning in the psychology, whose heavy Jungian reliance I’m not sure is entirely advisable, and for all that he claims that all standard structures are merely ways of breaking apart the root story, he tends to outline everything in terms of five acts (which is fine, just seems a touch inconsistent).

All told, though, this is an engaging and thorough dissection of story craft that’s far broader, and thus more helpful, than many other attempts I’ve read.

Three Uses Of The Knife (David Mamet)

A reference in Into The Woods led me to this, Mamet’s short essay(s) from 1998 on what makes good drama (which, pro tip, isn’t available as an ebook in the UK so if you’re a Brit you may have to, uh, trick stores into thinking you’re in the US or get an American friend to pass it along minus DRM).

Mamet - it goes without saying - knows his stuff, and there’s some good material here. Not in terms of framing a story, but in terms of what drives audience interest in a scene or a character, and, again, the why of it (to the extent that some of Yorke’s book reads like a lengthening of what’s here).

It’s also wrapped up in a lot of politics (on which Mamet went on to write a separate book a couple of years ago) and railing against the rise of 700-channel TV culture (IIRC, likewise), and the somewhat scattershot structure means the whole thing reads like the recorded ramblings of your supremely talented but also deeply cranky playwright uncle after a couple of glasses of sherry.

That said, it’s worth reading. Not worth paying print prices for now - in hardcopy you’re looking at $20-30 for, ooh, probably 15k ish words, about half of which go for a long wander - but otherwise.

Why STAR WARS should have ditched the text crawl

I watched The Force Awakens last week, and in what I know is a minority opinion, I found myself wishing it was better. Most of all, I wish they’d ditched the stock text crawl for one simple reason: Star Wars is the only series that can get away with using one, and it encourages lazy writing because you no longer need to establish context through action or character when you can just slap it up as text exposition at the start.

In some films in the series - notably the first two - the script covers everything the audience needs and the crawl has been stylistic and unnecessary as a storytelling tool. From Jedi onwards they’ve become a crutch to save writers having to worry about an opening that establishes the story’s framing. Jedi just about works without the text telling you what everyone’s been doing. TPM leaves you clueless as to why Naboo is being attacked and why the Jedi are there. AOTC uses its crawl to explain who the film’s villain is so it doesn’t need to bother even showing him for two-thirds of its runtime. ROTS tells you the Clone War is happening in a way as meaningless as the film itself, so maybe that’s OK. And TFA, which like TPM has to establish a whole new universe even if you know the previous films, thinks it’s given you enough detail to explain the background - First Order = Empire, Resistance = Rebellion, Luke = vanished - and so none of this stuff needs covering in further detail. That from here on out, “because Star Wars” will allow the film to wave a hand and leave a huge amount unanswered that should in some way have been shown to the viewer.

Perhaps as a result of thinking that more context has been established than it has, or perhaps as a result of needing to ensure there’s a driving sequence of events to avoid the kind of empty A-B-C that made up the prequels, so many of the story’s events, and the characters’ motivations, are waved away. They have to happen because the script says so, and because the fans need to know this film is made by someone who knows the originals. Starkiller Base is like a Death Star - you know what those are, so we don’t need to know much more about it or the threat it poses to anyone - and of course it’s got a weakness and of course it’ll be blown up because you know what Death Stars are like. Threats are dismissed throughout before even being truly established outside prior fan knowledge. Characters make choices “because Star Wars” instead of because of what we’ve seen of them on-screen. And it all happens in a time and a place and a way that has no obvious reason or motivation outside the script needing things to be so. The same lazy establishing of background that begins in the text crawl extends to all parts of the process.

So, relatively spoiler-free, and roughly in the sequence they occurred to me while watching:

Why did Max Von Sydow have the map? Who was he and why would Luke leave it with him?

waves hand

How come the Falcon came to be on the same planet as Main Character Related To Old Characters, in fact in the same settlement, even more hard to imagine given how large planets are?

waves hand

How come Han was right there when it took off, scanning for it?

waves hand

And the First Order, who were originally right there, aren’t?

waves hand

How did Yoda Analogue (who I mostly liked as CGI characters go) - or indeed anyone else - get Luke’s lightsaber given that it was lost when his hand was chopped off and fell somewhere into Cloud City’s automated waste chutes that drop trash straight out the bottom?

waves hand, in this case quite literally with the line, “that’s a long story for another time” that we will never, ever hear

Why is Kylo Ren looking for Luke at all? And even if it’s out of some vague fear that if he stops being a hermit he could train a new order of Jedi, why so forcefully, given that he apparently killed the last lot of new Jedi when he was just a student himself?

waves hand

Who are the Resistance resisting exactly? The First Order wants to destroy the Republic, and the Resistance are fighting the First Order, but so, presumably, is the Republic. There’s some mention of “without the Republic’s fleet, we’re doomed”, implying that they work together, and yet they’re a separate entity, much-rumoured on obscure worlds like Jakku. Are they just the people who oppose the First Order on Order-controlled systems, the French Resistance to the Republic’s Allied Command? If so, why are they based on the apparently neutral world where Yoda Analogue lives and why are they led by surely-Republic-bigwig Leia? This was presumably supposed to be contained within the crawl but if so I missed it. I never thought I’d say it after the prequels, but how does all this work exactly?

waves hand

And who needs justified character drama?

Why does Leia greet Han like they’re old friends rather than having the fight he’s been dreading, and he’s been told he can’t avoid forever? Why set up this tension only to dismiss it completely?

scriptwriter waves hand, having decided that fear of the fight was enough to keep Han and Leia apart for years without it needing to actually happen when they meet again

Why do Leia and Han keep referring to That Guy as ’our son’ rather than by his original name?

scriptwriter waves hand because preserving the reveal of the character’s real name is in some way worth making everyone else’s dialogue ridiculous

How was Poe “thrown clear” of the wreck without his jacket? Why was Finn so sure he’d died that he tells Rey he has?

scriptwriter waves hand, having decided that bullshit ’this character is dead OH NO HE ISN’T’ is still a viable twist that hasn’t been overused in other films, and one, too, that in no way will be ruined by the trailer showing Poe flying an X-wing

Why is Finn so afraid of Rey finding out the truth of who he is when, when she finds out, the news doesn’t even make her mildly nonplussed, let alone cross?

shut your mouth, son; conflict, no matter how reasonable or based in character, doesn’t require resolution if the script demands something else at that point

Why/how is Kylo obsessed with Vader? Is it for any other reason than to show the helmet in the trailer? That “I will finish what you started” line doesn’t even make sense because Vader didn’t start anything.

I’m not even talking to you now.

Why does Leia hug Rey towards the end and not That Other Character Who’d Be Far More Upset? It’s not like they don’t have a long, shared history.

Lalalala

Why did you feel the need to have one character explain another’s motives to them - “You see him as the father you never knew” - when it should be obvious by that point what they see in them anyway? Did you never hear “show, don’t tell”?

I’m calling Security.

I could go on, not least about JJ Abrams’ complete inability to grasp how big space is, much in evidence in Star Trek when Vulcan implodes as well; the nearest planet to Earth appears as a bright dot in the sky but here we have multiple worlds in clear sight of one another, and the beam itself, when the Red Beam Of Death hits. Or about how the Supreme Leader, in a film with such a huge budget, somehow looks like one of the CGI monsters in I Am Legend instead of a believable being, rendering him - and he doesn’t seem to have any reasoning to his choices at all beyond “remember how you guys liked the Emperor in Jedi?” - hollow. Or why Captain Phasma was so woefully underused after her prominent display on all the promo stuff and her special armour. Or, for that matter, and for all that Rey is a good character, why it’s barely any better than the originals in terms of non-lead female screen time.

This isn’t to say there aren’t good points: the Rey stuff on Jakku is largely excellent (though a couple of early lines - “We’re going low!” - are on a par with “I’ll try spinning, that’s a good trick!” from TPM), as is her relationship with Finn early-on, Finn could have been much more fleshed-out as we never see him enjoying being a stormtrooper before he has second thoughts but is otherwise great, Ren is a far better Anakin-alike than Christensen ever was, Harrison Ford seems to be really enjoying being Old Han and plays it with real zip, and the energy and imagination shown throughout is back up to the standard of the originals. On the whole, it’s OK, and the fact that the new characters are the strongest - and that the fan service should be finished with now, and it’s a new director for the next one - bodes well for the sequel.

But I wish they’d ditch the text crawl. I wish they’d ignore the fact that it’s Star Wars and remember that a story comes from a fleshed-out character making choices consistent with what’s been shown to the audience in a context that’s been properly framed. All of which, ironically, was what made the very first movie so strong. You can argue that it’s all easy, cliché, but that doesn’t stop it being effective.

Happy New Year, by the way.

Review: SMALL CHANGE

Yesterday I finished the latest (and by “latest” I mean it’s not out till December) book of Andrez Bergen’s, he of TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT, WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA? and DEPTH CHARGING ICE PLANET GOTH fame, amongst others.

Small Change

SMALL CHANGE (A Casebook of Scherer and Miller, Investigators of the Paranormal and Supermundane) is, as its subtitle suggests, a set of individual stories/vignettes about a PI duo who specialise in “investigating” (more often than not blowing the brains out of the perpetrators of) paranormal crimes and events, and tracks them over three broad time periods (“A bit over two years ago”, “Way back when”, and “More recently”; easily the best timeline title cards I’ve seen in fiction).

The split, and he notes in his afterword that even though many of the stories have been published here and there down the years, he always had exactly this broad time separation in mind, allows for a steady establishment of character, reveal of past history/mystery, and then demonstration of how they’ve changed. This is particularly true for Roy, the POV character, whose past is an interesting poacher-turned-gamekeeper one, but both he and Suzie have plenty of time to shine, and the shift in dynamic and relationship in the final couple of stories is good and helps the collection feel tied-off.

The stories are a return to the knowingly sardonic classic hard-boiled style of TSMG. If you’re going to write the (young, here) Bogart-analogue PI and sidekick duo sprinkled with classic pop culture references, the characters have got to be enjoyable and the whole thing has to have a sense of fun and zip. Happily, both are true. This is as entertaining a slice of paranormal PI fiction as you’re likely to find. And unlike its probable closest lazy “if you like X you’ll like Y” comparison, the Dresden Files books (note: partly a guess; I’ve not read them, but I know the RPG based thereon, so your mileage may vary), neither Roy nor Suzie have any remarkable abilities of their own. They’re everyman characters, not even, in Roy’s case, especially capable in any sense except of keeping his head in a crisis, and thoroughly likeable and believable as a result.

The pace is fast, like the dialogue. Most of the stories are barely about an investigation at all - a good portion of them start in media res with the pair of them dealing with the villain in question already - but about the characters, and so the whole thing rattles along from scene to shining scene.

So, good characters, smart structure, entertainingly zippy pace, screwball style that’s light enough on cultural references to avoid bogging down, and a good mix of situations thrown at Roy and Suzie to keep things interesting. I’d happily recommend it to anyone who enjoys a nod and a wink to the hard-boiled classics with a sense of fun and its own identity. It’s good clean entertainment and the obvious enjoyment Bergen had writing the duo bleeds over onto the page.

My hairs to split number a grand total of three, none of them serious, and mostly revolve around the villains and other supporting cast.

The episodic style keeps things moving along, but other than Roy, Suzie and Art, Suzie’s dad and Roy’s former mentor, there are no recurring characters. Even - avoiding spoilers, as I’ll do throughout - Mocha, who Roy takes a shine to and who he’s involved with long enough to at least theoretically come up directly again, is removed from proceedings off-camera at the end of her story. While Roy and Suzie - and Art, in the way back when section - are a solid centrepiece, the lack of other ongoing presences or longer storylines does risk leaving the backdrop feeling a little thin (note: “risk”; that’s a very subjective judgement and personally I enjoyed the main two enough to wave it off).

Secondly, and working very hard here to avoid spoilers, I wasn’t sure the case that turns out to be a sort of audition to see if Roy is ready for the big time really, truly worked as such for me. The challenge involved in it isn’t working out who the bad guy is, but in getting to him. That challenge is then removed and a bunch of people are killed - apparently by the auditioner - so Roy can get to the guy. But would the person in question have done what they did? Were they capable? And would it still be an effective audition given that it hasn’t shown Roy capable of facing that level of challenge alone? (Also: this particular villain is one I’d have loved to see more of or to come up again, since he remains a little unexplored in terms of how and why he’s doing what he’s done.) I couldn’t help wonder if the reveal was a way of writing the story out of a corner rather than something planned from the start.

And thirdly, while the Roy-Suzie arc develops nicely, and the last case is entertaining enough, it felt like less of a resolution and more as just another step on the journey. I like the shift in Suzie’s role here, don’t get me wrong, and I like that it’s shown in this way, but I was surprised this was the end of the book (the presence of the glossary and afterword fooled me in terms of length-to-go). Basically, I wanted more, which is never a bad thing, but worth noting.

And it’s not a hair split at all, but I was left with a really burning case of the what-ifs by one story. It’s not a spoiler to say it, because you know it happened (years before) right at the beginning of the book, but Art dies, and his final case could so easily, so so easily, have been a tragic metaphor for his fatal alcoholism instead of just a final case. If it hadn’t been a villain who got him - particularly given the nature of the one he thinks he’s looking for - but he’d been genuinely delusional just this once and died in the most sad and mundane way for Roy to find, I’d have loved that as a touch, a little tragedy to show the flip side to the bizarre life the characters lead. Roy already knows, and has already seen, X and Y and Z by the time it happens, so it’s not as though Art’s view of the world as a scary place full of the paranormal needs any reinforcement in the manner of his end. Wishful thinking on my part, but it stayed with me after I’d finished the book.

Those are the only quibbles I had, and they’re minor in the extreme. So when SMALL CHANGE comes out, buy it.

Of monster outlines and dialogue-only drafts

I found myself trying to describe how I’m writing the current book the other day as part of a discussion about outlines, plans and structure. I couldn’t explain it all that well at the time, but I’ve got a lot more space - and a little more time - here, so let’s give it another try for the sake of posterity.

Scrivener, last week

Having planned it out as usual as a brief list of character/plot beats on post-its, I’ve written it, aside from the ending (which I’ll complete once everything else is tied off) almost as a film script. Dialogue and brief stage directions/description only. Now I’m going back and filling out those descriptions fully. It’s a little like working to an insanely detailed outline, a little like doing a second draft on a finished project that needs a lot of work.

This is largely a question of practicalities; normally, I’d plan, but write things out like anyone else. Nowadays, though, my time is limited. I’ve got a lot of freelance editing work, and I carve off only a limited amount of time each week (Fridays, generally) to work on my own stuff. Because I can go a week between sessions, it’s important that I don’t lose the thread, and important that I don’t think I’m getting nowhere, treading water, and that it’ll take forever to finish.

What this means is that I now have a ‘before’ that looks like this:

(Gabe is sitting in his car, watching the Juneau ferry delicately maneuver into port and tie up at the jetty. He’s talking on his phone to a voice, badly distorted by interference.)

G: I know I’m just supposed to be liaising. The body will be transported back in the next couple of days. We’re still waiting on a full tox report. Obviously everything will be passed on so you’re in the loop. I was just trying to—

V: I can’t tell you any more, Officer Knox.

G: Even just a little, I mean, people here are won—

V: No, I mean, I can’t tell you more. You want to talk to Officer Gillman.

G: She’s handling family liaison?

V: She’s our researcher. Looks after the records.

G: (Surprised; he’d figured this for a much smaller department.) She knew Ms Folguera?

V: She looks after the records. If anyone did…

G: OK. So, can I talk to her?

V: She’s not on shift right now. You should call back (burst of static that nearly deafens Gabe) around midnight, our time.

G: She’s on nights. OK. This goddamn line is terrible. It always this bad?

V: Oh, yes.

And, once written out properly, an ‘after’ like this:

Gulls wheel above the dark blue stack of the Eastern Wings, dodging the plumes of black smoke billowing up at the clouds every time the ferry’s helmsman adjusts its heading and speed as the ship delicately clears the winding channel through the shoals and approaches the wooden piles of the jetty. There are crewmen, empty silhouettes against the sky, either side of its bridge, watching. No one on the deck. Just a couple of trucks waiting shoreside. The twins are there, ready to tie up.

“I know I’m just supposed to be liaising,” Gabe says into his cell phone. The line fizzes and pops brokenly with interference, digital distortion bad enough to render half the conversation he’s already had completely unintelligible. “The body’s going to be transported back in the next couple of days. We’re still waiting on a full tox report. Obviously everything will be passed on so you’re in the loop. I was just trying to—”

“I can’t tell you any more, Officer Knox,” the voice at the other end says, all fuzzed around every consonant.

“Even just a little? I mean, people here are won—”

“No,” the voice cuts him off. “I mean, I can’t tell you more. You want to talk to Officer Gillman.”

Gabe notes the name in the pad perched on his steering wheel. “She’s handling family liaison?”

“She’s our researcher.” The last word is so badly warped that he has to think twice to decipher it. “Looks after the records.”

He’s surprised at that; he’d figured the Muhlenberg County Sheriff’s Department for a much smaller force, one not much different to his own, without the resources to have a researcher on staff, even if she pulls double duty as a regular cop as well. Ahead, the Wings chugs to a halt at the dock. Grant grabs the mooring line and hands it off to his brother to tie the vessel up. “She knew Ms Folguera?” Gabe says.

“She looks after the records. If anyone did…”

“OK. So, can I talk to her?”

“She’s not on shift right now. You should call back—“ The voice breaks off as a burst of static rips through that nearly deafens Gabe. “—around midnight, our time.”

“She’s on nights.” Stranger and stranger. Hydraulics in the back ramp of the ferry shriek as it lowers to the jetty. “OK. This goddamn line is terrible. It always this bad?”

“Oh, yes,” the voice says as a couple of vehicles roll out, a thin trickle of foot passengers alongside.

(Example taken from what I’ve worked on last week, so it’s all first-draft quality.)

This approach has had definite up- and downsides. On the upside, some of the dialogue in this book is tighter and more expressive than I’ve written in ages. Overall, I’m really happy with the characterisation and sense of colour in what’s here, and having the thing mapped out like this has meant I’ve been excited to get through it first time around and still excited to flesh it out on the second, knowing the underlying structure is solid.

On the downside, in places it’s actually made direct description more redundant than I was expecting, and consequently I’m not sure I’m going to hit target word count. I have a backup plan - and, for God’s sake, always have a backup plan - to add extra material without having to add padding, but even so this one’s a lot harder to call than anything else I’ve ever worked on.

The story is good, the setting is gold, and I’m loving work on it despite the challenge involved in writing what’s almost a cozy, just very bleak and, at times, weird, having more fun than I’ve had since writing THE LEVELS way back when (not coincidentally the last time I was completely unconstrained by any outside influence at all). I just don’t know if the way it’s written will leave enough of it to make a properly meaty novel first time out. It’ll be good. Really good, I think. But there might need to be more of it.

It’s also patently nuts, and it’s taken a while to find a voice for the description having already sorted those for the dialogue, and then to keep a consistent tone throughout. Not necessarily harder than adding in extra material in later drafts in a regular book and having the whole thing hang together consistently, but certainly a challenge. It’s not a technique I’d necessarily recommend to others.

On the other other hand, it’s a damn sight easier than constructing an outline more detailed than a collection of post-its, and it’s still enabled me to spot potential structural and pacing issues before I’ve written thousands of words of material that then needs to be scrubbed. Given how much I hate outlining, that’s a definite plus.

(Partial) review: THE CARTEL

Very, very busy of late with editing work and a deadline on a bunch of magazine pieces, but I’m slowly emerging from under the pile.

One thing that has reduced somewhat - which is a shame, since I’m making a much better fist of it than in previous years - has been my reading. This is only partly, though, a result of workload, because what I’ve been trying to read has been…

The Cartel (Don Winslow)

The Cartel

First off the bat, Winslow (this is the first book of his I’ve read; I’ve previously skimmed THE WINTER OF FRANKIE MACHINE, so I knew what to expect style-wise, but otherwise came in blind) is both clearly an excellent writer, sparse and lean and effective, and equally clearly very, very well-up on Mexico’s drug trade and the sheer misery involved. The storytelling is tight and the sense of veracity never wavers.

I gave it up halfway through a couple of weeks ago.

THE CARTEL is a vast, sprawling novel that follows both the putative pro/antagonists, DEA agent Art Keller and drug boss Adan Barrera, and a whole slew of other characters involved one way or another across northern Mexico over the course of the early 2000s. The novel it most reminded me of, of all things, is A GAME OF THRONES, in so much as the scale is very broad, the cast list is very long indeed, and most of the people the reader sees will probably end up dead.

This, though, was the problem I had with it. The book is (roughly speaking) broken up into separate character POVs as the overall story follows a linear timeline. We’ll see Keller and his two Mexican counterparts conducting a raid they hope will give them Barrera, say, and then we’ll cut for a lengthy chapter following the rise, fall, near-death, and rise again of a half-American guy working the trade in Nuevo Laredo and his swearing revenge on the brutal Zetas we’ve seen murder his friend. Then cut back. And then to Barrera. And then to another guy in another place also betraying or being betrayed and dying or nearly dying and swearing revenge or trying to run. Sometimes we’ll cut back to a character we’ve seen before, sometimes we won’t. Eddie, the half-American, is a running figure, although the middle section of his story is very much told in summary. Sometimes those characters will intersect a little. Sometimes they won’t.

What I found, though, is that for all the good writing, each of those chapters plays out like a vignette of its own, and there wasn’t enough of an overall narrative thread to keep me going with after every jump. I know Keller and Barrera first appeared in THE POWER OF THE DOG, the first part of Winslow’s history (both, in theory, are standalones), but in this I really couldn’t see much of either of them as characters.

Keller’s introduction is great, and promised so much - the threat he’d be facing from Barrera, the way he’s been pulled out of a very different life (he’s a monk and a beekeeper, of all things) to return to his old one - but the reality is that other than wondering whether Aguilar and Vega, his two Mexican colleagues, can be trusted, there’s very little for Keller to do and very little actual sense of threat, danger or urgency hanging over him. Barrera must be stopped. He’s trying to stop him. It’s not easy. That initial promise never turns into anything (in the first half of a gigantic book, anyway).

It’s much the same for Barrera. We see why he hates Keller. His ambitions are clear. But after an equally strong opening section, he’s just sort of there, a presence whose decisions influence the shape of the individual vignettes, but for whom it’s hard to feel anything much at all. He’s not as evil as the Zetas, not directly, anyway, and remains mild-mannered whatever’s going on. Which is a fine basis for a character, but not one who can hold a story together with such huge gaps between his appearances.

The supporting characters are largely drawn just fine, and the various horrors they endure are very believable and deeply unpleasant, but there’s not enough about them for me to what to find out what happens to any of them. One bunch of drug guys is fighting another bunch of drug guys, and they’re all brutal and horrible to one extent or another, and… that’s sort of it. And because the scope is so broad and the scale so large, there isn’t a real sense of anything personal enough to identify with and want to see through to the end. It took me much longer than expected to reach the midway point, and after a couple of days putting off picking it up again I found myself trying to come up with something, anything, I wanted to see resolved, that I could predict and wanted to see played out before I called time on the story. I couldn’t think of a single thing.

It won’t be my last Winslow book - as I say, the writing itself is great, and t’s had great reviews elsewhere so I imagine this is purely a personal thing - but I think the sheer size of this one put too much distance between me and what I was reading for me to care that much.