Who not to read

Duncan Fitzgerald confesses that he doesn’t read Tom Clancy any more. Says he

I got about 2/3 of the way through The Sum of All Fears. It was at that point I realized Clancy was just another poser in the mold of Zane Grey and Danielle Steele. A sell-out. A fake, a fraud, a user of template-based-MadLib-fill-in-the-blanks-book-writing.

Well, I haven’t read Clancy in years either. I loved The Hunt for Red October – but don’t get my Russian-born friend Galina started on how unrealistic it was from her perspective – and I made it through Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. The realization I came to at that point was that Clancy was basically writing technical manuals, with a lot of fawning for Reaganesque politics. He can’t write characters to save his life. Forget about writing female characters – you could come away from reading the Clancy portfolio and honestly believe he’s never met a real woman in his life. I mean, in Patriot Games, Jack Ryan’s buddy Robbie at one point refers to their wives as “the womenfolk”. The man is clearly not from this planet.

I haven’t read John Grisham in years, either. Once you come to the realization that all Darby Shaw had to do was tell someone else about the “Pelican Brief”, it becomes hard to take his plots seriously. Then there’s Patricia Cornwell, whose first couple of books were outstanding. Unfortunately, her plots got more contrived and her characters got less interesting. I vowed to quit after reading Cause of Death, easily my all-time candidate for Book By A Big-Name Author In Greatest Need Of An Editor, but I came across a used copy of the first book in her other series, Hornet’s Nest, and gave it a try. Wrong!

I think all three of these authors started out doing good books (Clancy’s Red October, Grisham’s The Firm, Cornwell’s Postmortem, which is still the gold standard for medical examiner thrillers). I don’t know if they simply ran out of original ideas, or if their success meant that no one was able to tell them that they had turned into hacks. Take my advice, people – go read Michael Connelly, Jill McGown, Robert Crais, Jan Burke, Harlan Coben, Peter Robinson, Rick Riordan, John Sandford, Aaron Elkins, Kathy Reichs, or Elizabeth George. You can thank me later.

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