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?
I remember The Crow Trap. I enjoyed it, but I definitely thought that it took a long time to get to the meat of the story. And having done so—well, I watch Vera on public TV fairly often. But those early episodes when she’s so mean to the young people for no reason other than that they lack experience—that definitely puts me off. Not relatable there.
The author that annoys me, somewhat to my surprise, is Louise Penny. I like her plots and enjoy her writing style. If she just wrote shorter and without so much description. That stupid town, endless pages of how cute it is. Someone lent me a copy of book 14 when I was recovering from surgery, and I remember how strongly I edited it in my head. The story happened in winter, and I thought if I read one more page about snow falling and lights twinkling on it and everyone decorating for Christmas, I’d puke. I know you’re a Penny fan, and I could be, so I’m looking forward to a time when she cuts back on the word count so I can be more enthusiastic. 300 pages, that’s all we need for a mystery. Where’s Robert B. Parker when you need him? 🙂
Kay, you’ve hit on a key point for me with The Crow Trap–the character of Vera just wasn’t particularly likeable to me. It didn’t help that I had a vison of her, based on the later shows that I’d seen. I will say, I was relieved in the book that she didn’t pepper her speech with “love” and “pet” as she does in the show.
As for Louise Penny, I think that’s case of either you like the style or you don’t. I think you also have to be in the mood. I think I’ve mentioned before that it’s the narrator of the first 10 books that has kept me repeat listening more than anything; I just find his voice so calming.
Some readers have commented about their dislike of Penny’s use of Short. Choppy. Sentences. Others, like you, have called out the abundant descriptions of weather and food and whatnot. I stopped reading the latest stories, not because of any of that, but because the storylines felt more and more unbelievable and sensational. Book 10 felt like a good ending point for the series. Her legion of fans no doubt think otherwise and I have to admire her ability to come out with a new book every year.
Ann Cleeves has written other series – have you read any of those?
I have read other Cleeves! She wrote the Shetland stories. I *love* that TV show, and I enjoyed the books a lot, too, I think because I like the characters better. Or maybe because I’d seen the TV version of them. 🙂
I’ll have to try some of her other stories. She’s been highly recommended by a few folks. I’ve never seen the Shetland TV show, so at least I won’t have any preconceived notions while reading.
Welcome to Temptation is my favorite Crusie, and I have happily read it multiple times and enjoyed every minute.
The Last Hour of Gann is crazy long (695 pages). I was probably 3/4 of the way through before I thought, “How long IS this thing?” (Kindle book, so I genuinely had no idea.) It was good though, with a twist at the end that made it worth finishing.
I’ve gotten pretty ruthless about abandoning ship if a book doesn’t hold my interest . Life is short.
As Susan Elizabeth Phillips says, “life is too short to read bad books”
Diana Gabaldon’s epics run to almost 1,000 pages each, and I have only rarely thought “Dear god, please get to the point”. I don’t regret any of the time spent in the entire saga, and in fact have reread it.
“Little Big” by John Crowley is almost 600pp, and either goes by as quickly as a dream or lasts the lifetime that a dream can last, depending on your perspective.
“Seveneves” by Neal Stephenson, on the other hand, is 800+ pages, and should have been 400 pages. Possibly it shouldn’t have been written at all. God knows I want those hours back.
Then there’s the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald, which are tiny, but have a lead character so distasteful in his prejudices that I had to set the book aside, unfinished.
tl;dr — Love long books that are a joy to read.
“Love long books that are a joy to read” sums it up well. Even a short book can feel like it goes on forever if it is not well written.
I remember reading (and liking?) Little Big, but I don’t remember thinking it was too long, so that bodes well for the story (or not well for my memory).