Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Fall; it scares me how good it's not

Like most people who read books, I have an informal pantheon of writers I've read who go beyond "I know I shouldn't waste my time with this" and off into "Oh my word, that's really, really bad stuff." Dan Brown, for example, a man who's honestly capable of nothing good; it's genuinely breathtaking to romp through his prose marveling at the tin ear for dialogue, the contrived situations, the characters who could be slid under the door of a bank vault without harm, and above all the crazily wrong "details". I read The Da Vinci Code marvelling that a writer could literally be wrong about everything I knew enough about to check. Or there's Stel Pavlou, a man who writes like his X-Box is broken and he has to fill the gap until the new one arrives. Matthew Reilly used to be a guilty pleasure of mine, but lord, he's really not a good writer. And there's alway lyin' Lord Archer, my touchstone for crappy writing, whose Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less is the first book I can remember reading and thinking that I could have done a better job on. With crayons.

Every now and then I hit a writer who's mostly humdrum, but has moments of sick genius; if you're ever need of a laugh, I commend to you any piece of rip-roaring action in Michael Asher's Death or Glory: The Last Commando. Every few pages, Asher oscillates out of his default mode of hackneyed cliche and into either quite decent descriptions of life in the desert or perfectly dreadful purple prose to describe gunfights. It's like the machine gun equivalent of those bodice rippers that flail around looking for synonyms for naughty bits, but with a lot more verbed nouns and bloodshed. I was too hypnotised at first to check his sources, but I did make the time eventually and discovered that his Nazi supermen were fighting with rifles never issued for desert warfare and machine guns only ever used in aircraft. Usually that kind of slip would just kill the mood for me, but it was a mere blip compared to the lunacy of the prose.

And then there's Chuck Hogan, who is threatening to displace even Lord Archer in my mind. I've just finished his and Bill del Toro's follow up to last year's The Strain, and it's quite a bit worse than the first book. On the one hand, it manages to make the entire end of the world feel dull and uneventful. On the other hand, Hogan's actually crossed the line into writing so bad that it's distracting. From quite early on, there's stuff in here so clunky that it actually kicks you back out into the real world blinking at the idea that someone could get this past an editor. Why they didn't take the typewriter off Chuck when he felt the need to describe a tablet as sublingual and then immediately gloss that as "under the tongue", I will never know.

Although the vampires have fattened up physically since I last checked in at the end of the world, the same can't be said of the characters. Somehow, the lead humans have got less interesting and involving since I saw them last and nothing else has stepped up to pick up the slack. I was quite looking forward to meeting a bunch of slightly less horrible vampires, but we see very little of the vampire forces of law and order and by the end of the book they've been completely wiped out. I kept waiting for the book to pick up, but it fizzles out apathetically, no mean feat in a book which has world war three break out and create a nuclear winter so as to reduce vampire sun tanning issues. It was hard to fight the feeling that Hogan and del Toro were thinking oh yeah, crap, this a trilogy, let's just get the middle book out of the way so that we can do the big finish.

Gonna need to be a hell of a big finish to get them out of my bad books.

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