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5.05.2011

A Tale of Two Conno(e)llys

I left the novel I was reading in my office on Monday (The Reapers, John Connolly) and I needed something to help me off into sleep, so I cracked open The Scarecrow, by Michael Connelly. The books share some eerie similarities: both have crows on the front; both boast New York Times bestsellers status; both feature full-page author photographs on the back covers.

Both have intricate, engaging plots and strong prose styling.

But now that I've got them both working simultaneously, it's a pretty interesting case study in personal taste. I have to admit that I prefer John Connolly's stories to Micheal Connelly's, which is certainly no slam on the latter.

Micheal Connelly's writing is concise. He builds short chapters with short, active sentences. He alternates perspective, switching back and forth between first and third as he sets up an admittedly telegraphed plot. There are few similies and metaphors, and it reads very much like the work of an accomplished former crime reporter (which Connelly, and the story's protagonist, both were/are).

John Connolly's writing is far more complex in terms of sentence structure. His paragraphs are much longer, and he uses loads of compound sentences. There is a lilt to the phrasing--partly, I would suppose, due to the type of English spoken in his native Dublin, Ireland. His chapters are much longer, and he spends much more time with exposition. While most of his novels star P.I. Charlie Parker, a couple focus on hardened badasses Angel and Louis, and The Reapers is one of those. He writes some startlingly creative comparisons--similes and metaphors that are perfectly apt (and some fall flat, too--none of us is immune, it would appear). He uses italics for flashback, a stylistic hallmark of Stephen King's work, and one I enjoy very much (matter of preference, of course; my agent really doesn't like it)...

Both of the stories are strong, and I'm enjoying them. If anything, this exercise in reading just emphasizes two effective approaches to narrative.

But, if pressed, I suppose I prefer Connolly. I'm a sucker for thorough exposition, and his use of flashback really makes the characters come to life. I also like that he laces his stories with supernatural plot devices. This one is pretty straight forward, but much of his fiction is flavored with fantastic influences.

Style and tone and structure and voice and plotting and organization and character and setting and, above all, story--that's what it takes...

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