When Beginnings Aren’t

I love Jeffery Deaver’s books. While he’s most famous for the Lincoln Rhymes series, I also adore his Katheryn Dance novels. A stand-alone, “The Bodies Left Behind,” was my first Deaver and is still one of my favorites. He’s one of the few authors whom I consider an “auto-buy.” So when “The October List” came on pre-order, I snapped it up. Didn’t even read the book description. Just clicked BUY and waited for it to pop up in my Kindle.

If I had taken the time to look at the blurb, I would have read, “The shocking end is only the beginning… #1 bestselling author Jeffery Deaver has created the most riveting and original novel of the year—a race-against-the-clock mystery, told in reverse. (Italics mine.)

The whole thing is told back to front. Omega to alpha. Climax to intro. Now, I like to consider myself relatively intelligent, but I could not get through this for the life of me. I started it three times and really only went back to it the last time so I could write this post. I kid you not–it was wicked hard to read. Not the actual writing, mind you. Or even the plot, once I understood the big picture. But the back-to-front construction of it defeated me.

For one thing, I couldn’t sustain enough concentration to make sense of the events. The unusual construction kept me from recognizing which clues or info I should be retaining, and I kept having to go back to the beginning (really, the ending) to look up names or events that I hadn’t realized I’d need to remember. Perhaps this would have been easier in a print book, but the e-version made it extremely frustrating.

Reading this book was work. I had to take notes! And, aside from this blog post idea, the only reason I kept at it was because this was an author I loved and I really wanted to like it.

Eventually, I realized I really didn’t care about the characters, either. Contrary to Deaver’s usual efforts, the main characters—Gabriella (a woman whose six-year-old daughter has been kidnapped for a ransom of a half-million bucks and the delivery of the mysterious October List) and Daniel (a rich and George Clooney-handsome man who first met Gabriella two days before the kidnapping and committed to helping her get her daughter back)—both came across simultaneously cardboard and melodramatic. The fact that Gabriella keeps getting distracted by moments of lust for sexy Daniel irritated me no end as well. Really? She’s gettin’ hot and distracted by “the heat of his touch on her thigh” in the midst of fleeing bad guys and trying to rescue her daughter from a crazed, ruthless kidnapper? (Italics, most assuredly, mine.)

Finally, after pushing through the first third, I gave up and, highly unusual for me, jumped to the end (beginning) and discovered—in true Deaver fashion—a twist that I would not have been able to have imagined. Although I still hated the structure, what I learned at least reassured me that Deaver hadn’t completely lost his mind. In fact, in its own way, this particular story was peculiarly right for being told in backwards progression. It didn’t make me like it anymore, though.

So, do I have a moral for all this? Not really. Except … maybe…while hindsight is 20-20, it’s not a great way to write a book. 

Author: donnawhiteglaser

Donna White Glaser is the author of The Letty Whittaker 12 Step Mystery series. Like her main character, Donna is a psychotherapist and lives northwestern Wisconsin. As if that weren’t enough, she and her husband own a residential construction company where it’s Donna’s job to deal with any overly emotional, what-do-you-mean-you-can’t-put-roof-trusses-up-in-a-thunderstorm? clients. Strangely enough, she often comes up with ideas for creative murders and hiding bodies during business hours. Currently she is at work on the fourth Letty Whittaker 12 Step Mystery-THE BLOOD WE SPILL. Donna would love to hear from you via her website at www.donnawhiteglaser.com or on Twitter: @readdonnaglaser.

9 thoughts on “When Beginnings Aren’t”

  1. Great post, Donna. That approach reminds me of Columbo – where you saw the murder happen at the beginning and then the rest of the show was Columbo’s investigation. So it was really more of a “how will he figure this out?” instead of “whodunit?” concept. But at least it happened in chronological order! Not sure I could write end to beginning myself. And yes, lust thoughts in the middle of escaping bad guys and figuring out a kidnapping is kind of funny. 🙂


  2. I enjoyed your terrific post and appreciated the warning, Donna. It’s awfully disappointing when a favorite author’s work leaves the reader feeling disappointed or, worse yet, confused, but it’s brave to try a new, creative approach. I hope Deaver is braver still and returns to his previous tried-and-true method of writing.


  3. I don’t do reviews but I will say on this forum that I don’t dig experimental fiction. At all. If you take me out of the story by your fancy words or your clever ways to manipulate structure, you’ve usually lost me. I want the words and structure to be invisible and not draw attention to themselves and not make me WORK to read.


  4. Some of my highly literary friends were wild for the film Memento. For them, it was all about the structure, how you only get bits and pieces, and the story starts way back from the beginning. I watched it, but I didn’t care for it. Too heady for me. Just like what you’re saying here. Yeah, I have to think reading Woolf and Faulkner, even Joyce, but it’s a delightful kind of paying attention to all the beautifully drawn details. I guess he had to try that experiment. We’ll see where he goes from there.


  5. I rarely do reviews, either, especially as I know how it hurts to get a negative one. I will say that I do think, as Marjorie mentioned, that it was brave of Deaver to try such a novel approach. (No pun intended.) In fact, it’s even braver of him since he is a “big gun.” He automatically gets noticed and has more to lose than someone like myself who can experiment in relative obscurity, if I choose to. Anyway, I’ll still keep him on my auto-buy list, but I’ll read descriptions first!


  6. This is very interesting! I tend to find books with unusual structures to be intriguing…Chuck Palahniuk wrote SURVIVOR from end to beginning too (even numbered the pages backwards). In that case, it really increased the tension because it became a countdown to the plane crash we knew was coming. Maybe the effectiveness depends on the kind of story being told?


    1. I think it’s one of those personal preferences, like whether or not you can stand present tense. (I can’t.) I do think Deaver did a great job, as always, with the plotting. It was the construction itself that I disliked, not his execution of it. Another factor is probably my fibromyalgia. During flare ups, I simply can’t remember things. I tried reading TOL over the holidays and suspect that my fibro was a contributor to the difficulty.


  7. I love this oh-so-honest post! I have a short list of those “auto-buy” authors, and they haven’t disappointed me yet, but there are some who were on my list of faves who have fallen off because the writing has gone in a new direction. Sometimes I can go with them, sometimes I can’t. Either way, I respect their willingness to try new things and their desire to stay fresh and motivated as writers. I just don’t always love the results.


  8. Theresa, I immediately thought of the film Memento too! I loved how it unfolded, but I thought it worked because the story was told visually. I don’t think I could follow the same thing in a book. More power to you, Donna, for giving it a go!


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