Monday, August 24, 2009

Third Time’s a Charm - Rusty Nail

I was in the mood for some light summer reading so I picked up J.A. Konrath’s third book in his Jack Daniels series. For those of you who don’t know, Mr. Konrath is an active blogger and offers plenty of tips for writers. So I’m always interested in looking at how he approaches his novels.

Now Jack Daniels is a thriller series about a police detective who gets mixed up in dangerous cases. Konrath mixes danger, comedy and drama pretty well in all three books, but I was specifically interested to see how he would tackle book three.

He took a bit of an unexpected tactic. He based this case off of the events that occurred in the first book. At first Jack thinks she’s dealing with a copy cat killer, especially since the case from the first book was very high profile. But as things go along, it becomes obvious to the reader (and eventually to Jack) that this is something new – but tied very closely to first book.

Now Konrath has stated that his books are meant to be picked up and enjoyed, no matter what order you find them. He calls them airport reading, and I can see that. They offer quick, fun escape reading, perfect if you need to put it down, but just catchy enough to keep you reading.

This makes the prospect of tying back to the first book dangerous. You end up having to sum up the first case so that new readers won’t be completely lost. But at the same time you have to keep the exposition down to a minimum, because momentum and thrills are very important to this genre.

Konrath’s solution makes good sense, he has Jack think about the older case, specifically in how it relates to the current one. He actually makes it tantalizing, give a new reader enough to be interested (and maybe pick up that first book). Jack goes back to the old evidence to see if there is anything that matches with the evidence on the new case. This little journey triggers memories for Jack and for any reader who may not have picked up “Whiskey Sour” in a while (I read that book about a year and half ago, so my memories weren’t too sharp either).

As Jack gets closer and closer to putting the pieces together, the more the past plays into the story, but Konrath never bogs things down. He manages to keep the balance going and the story chugs along to it’s crazed conclusion.

This gives book three a different tone compared to the previous two books. Obviously the first “Whiskey Sour” was the intro novel. The follow up “Bloody Mary” was much more intense and graphic. It also moved at a very high speed. This book slowed down the pace a bit more and focused more on piecing the puzzle together and delving into Jack’s character a bit more. The element of the past plays a key role in the story and gives it a theme all it’s own.

So Konrath kept the series fresh feeling, even if he did end up with a serial killer on the lose as the basic plot again. The twists were pretty good and the identity of the killer had me guessing for a good while, but this time I did figure it out a few chapters before Jack did. I’m interested to see where he goes in book four. Will he keep the serial killer, or will Jack face a new type of danger? All in all, I found “Rusty Nail” to be a good read and an interesting study in keeping a series fresh.

Have you read “Rusty Nail”? What did you think of it? Do you have a favorite 3rd book or movie in a series? How did the writer keep the book feeling fresh and different?

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