No, this post isn’t about the pandemic.
I recently read The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves. For those not familiar with the title, it is the first book in the “critically-acclaimed series of crime novels set in Northumberland” featuring Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope and the basis for the British crime drama series Vera. I watched a few episodes of Vera not that long ago when they popped up on my local public television station and enjoyed them, so when The Crow Trap showed up as an e-book daily deal the other day, I thought I’d give it a try.
According to UKs Dead Good Books,
“Vera Stanhope, an overweight, middle-aged woman who looks more like a bag lady than a detective, was born out of Ann Cleeves’ frustration with central female characters who were young, fit and beautiful. At times bad-tempered and shambolic, Vera is also witty and authoritative – a truly three-dimensional character who is believable and relatable.”
I’m not sure about the believable and relatable part, but I’ll leave that for another time.
My main thought as I progressed partway through the story was, “how long is this book?”
When reading on a Kindle, the size of a book isn’t as instantly obvious as it is with a physical book. When I’d gotten about 200 pages into the story and there wasn’t yet a murder victim or any sign of Vera, I started to wonder. I’ve read mysteries before where the crime didn’t happen until more than halfway through the book (Georgette Heyer’s Penhallow, I’m looking at you), but that tends to be the exception rather than the rule.
A quick look at the “About This Book” page showed that the book was 543 pages.
*quickly whipping out calculator*
That’s over 135,000 words, based on the 250-per-page standard.
No wonder I felt like I had read a whole book when I was only partway through the story.
To be fair, detective fiction isn’t generally known for brevity (certain types of Cozy Mysteries not withstanding). Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, considered to be the first detective/mystery novel, weighs in at a whopping 616 pages in the copy I have on my shelf. Like many of Charles Dickens’ stories (David Copperfield-853 pages), it was initially released in installments (and possibly paid for by the word), which would help explain the length. Reading at time it was published was also a different kettle of fish, a more leisurely experience without so many other competing entertainments–not like today when books are readily available, affordable, and abundant and there are so many other demands on time.
Fun fact: The woman in white has never been out of print since its initial publication in installments in 1859. Talk about staying power!
The length of a book certainly isn’t a deal-breaker when it comes to reading. I know I’ve certainly read books where I thought, “I wish this story wasn’t over already.” Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation is 400 pages and when reading it I’ve never ever thought “is it over yet?”
If a story has characters I want to know more about, a good sense of community, and a story arc with strong pacing, I will happily read on no matter what length the story.
However, if after 200 pages I’m left with the feeling that I’ve just slogged through the world’s longest prologue, all bets are off.
As I think more about The Crow Trap, the issue for me wasn’t that the book was so long, it was that it felt so long. The book has a high rating with many wonderful reviews, and was turned into a television series, so my reading experience seems to be in the minority. However, as I was reading, I couldn’t help donning my editing had and mentally cutting out a hundred pages or two.
I also have to wonder if being used to episodic television and the way today’s entertainment is delivered has spoiled mefor long leisurely reads.
Or maybe that book just wasn’t my catnip.
So, how about you? Are you a fan of long leisurely reads? Can you think of any long books you read that felt like they flew past?