X is for XL

– for Kerrie´s alphabet in crime meme

As it is not that easy to come up with something unique for this week´s post, I´ll rattle something off in the early morning rather than have my bright idea stolen once again. Margot, Bernadette and I have not quite forgiven you yet that you came first  ;) 

So X is for XL – or Extra-Large.

My first example is Kathy Reichs´ Déjà Dead which I reviewed the other day. A serial killer who commits six-seven murders (including the ones that took place before the story began) and about 500 pages.

Second, Val McDermid´s The Distant Echo. The cold case of Rosie Duff who was raped and stabbed before she was left to die in a cold cemetery. 561 pages.

Finally, Tana French´s The Likeness. About detective Cassie Maddox who tries to solve the murder of Lexie Madison, her double. 696 pages.

I tend to like long books because if the writer succeeds in drawing me into the world he or she created, I don´t want to leave again immediately. But even for me, there is some kind of limit, and now and then I think the editor might have suggested they go back home and cut away a hundred pages or so.

What do you think, are these modern doorstoppers so good that they should be three times as long as Agatha Christie´s stories, or are the writers just too lazy to edit and structure their work properly before they send it off to the publisher?

About Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen

I am a Danish teacher. In my spare time I read, write and review crime fiction.
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24 Responses to X is for XL

  1. KerrieS says:

    There is a tendency to regard over long novels as “not properly edited” but perhaps we should think about the fact that, in terms of paper etc., we are getting more value for our money🙂

  2. Jochen says:

    They are all in crime business, so they jump to the chance to steal their reader’s time. Then they take the time to write the next XXL-novel😉

  3. Dorte – Now that is a really creative idea for “x!” I knew you would think of something terrific. And it is really interesting how many books are longer than they used to be. There are some exceptions, such as Domingo Villar’s Water Blue Eyes. But so many books are long. I do love to be drawn into a good story, so length per se doesn’t put me off. But for XXL books, I have to sold, you might say, on the concept. Otherwise I simply don’t take the time to get through it.

  4. That’s a clever idea! I used to like long books, because you can definitely ‘inhabit’ them and I thought I was getting value for my money! But recently I find I do prefer the Agatha Christie length books, but that wouldn’t stop me reading the XLs, although the XXLs may be a few pages to much.🙂

  5. oops – typo – should be too much!!

  6. Petty Witter says:

    Kathy Reichs is one of my favourite crime writers.

    As I do a lot of reading in bed during the night I have to confess that I’m often put off by these modern door stoppers.

  7. Kerrie: to some extent I agree, but I am sure there are many readers who would think Tana French´s books were better if she rambled less.
    Jochen: you certainly have a point. And it seems that once they have begun, they add 1-200 pages for each volume🙂
    Margot: I am glad you liked my second idea. And you have a point about getting through them. Before I blogged, it didn´t matter if it took a couple of days, but I need books to review so…

  8. Margaret: I try to leave some of the really long ones for the summer holidays so I can get through them in a day or two, but it also takes quite a lot to put me off if I like the characters and the setting.

    Tracy: but then you shouldn´t like Kathy Reichs😉
    And my reading experience was even worse because it was an omnibus. Nearly 1000 pages to hold in my hand for hours (very good argument for e-books).

  9. Barbara says:

    I do like a good fat book and some stories just require 500+ pages. I must admit though that many fat books could do with a strict diet, and that most of the time I want a thinner book – both because of my arthritic hands and because that’s really all it takes to tell a good story.

  10. I agree with you about the long words. When a book is over 400 pages, I think a lot of filler goes into it. However, if there is a great plot that keeps the story going, I don’t want it to end, even at 600 pages.

  11. The word count phenom is interesting. I think, for traditionally-published books, that the folks who write the *really* long books are only the best-selling authors (the rest of us have to watch our word count.) But for e-publishing, it might be a game-changer…since there’s no cost of paper and binding to consider. Maybe we’re setting ourselves up for longer books?

  12. Pingback: X is for XL | djskrimiblog | Veja, Brasil

  13. Kelly says:

    Now that I read books on my Kindle in addition to on paper, I sometimes wonder if any issues I ever have with length are partly in my head. As long as a book is well-written and truly captures my interest, I don’t really mind it being overly long. After all, I have been known to struggle to finish very short books that weren’t particularly good.

    Great point about the ease of reading a long book on an e-reader, too. I just began a novel I’ve had on my shelf almost 30 years. I think I’m going to really enjoy it, but at 876 pages (hardback) it’s a pain to curl up with! (it’s my final book for the Global Challenge)

  14. Maxine says:

    Ha ha, great post. I don’t mind books being long at all (eg Trollope’s Palliser novels weigh in at about 1000 closely typed pages) if the length is justified, but sometimes it is not and the book really drags for me. The Dinosaur Feather was like this – 300 pages of back story mostly about one lot of people and 200 of plot in which new characters and themes are introduced- the first 300 could have been cut to a third of that. Tana French’s The Likeness was for me far too long for its content, making what could have been suspenseful dragged out and unrealistic. (the double coincidence thus seeming even more silly than it would have been otherwise). Sophie Hannah’s Lasting Damage was again like two books – half of it about two sisters’ romances and neuroses, half of it about a crime plot. Take Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy – book 1 was long but totally gripping, the longeurs were relevant to the story, so fine by me. yet book 2 had almost 200 pages of intro story that had zero relevance to the rest of the book – why was it there? Maybe the author intended to pick up the themes in a later book in the series, but sadly he was not around to do that by the time the books came to be translated, so that section could have been pruned drastically to the book’s benefit (compare it with a very similar and short novel, Missing by Karin Altvegen).
    Disclaimer: I am a professional editor who has a belief that anything can be shortened and is usually better that way!

  15. Barbara: you have my sympathy; when I have to lie down to read, I also prefer light-weight books, or I´ll have to prop them up on something. So the doorstoppers are for when I am sitting up.

    Clarissa: gripping or not, that is the question. I suppose we only finish those chunky books when they appeal to us. I put down one of the type the other day when I had read five chapters and been introduced to five different threads. It´s not only that I can´t make head and tail of that kind of story, I just don´t think anyone should write them that way!

    Elizabeth: I suspect you are right. And as you know, I have also run into trouble because some of my stories are too short. I plan to publish a couple of novellas in the future; stories I think are too good to be discarded, but not meaty enough to warrant 80,000 words.

  16. Kelly: should I feel guilty now for making you read that one for my challenge?😉
    I have noticed that even when I read e-books, I tend to check how many pages one per cent corresponds to so I have an idea how ´thick´ my current read is.

    Maxine: well, some of the Victorians were excellent at creating stories that could entertain a family during all the long, dark winter nights, but I remember when I had to read Samuel Butler´s The Way of All Flesh for a course. My what a struggle to get through that one! Butler could have edited 75 per cent away and come up with one fairly interesting novella if you ask me. So it is not *just* a new problem, but the computer has not exactly made it easier to control rambling writers🙂

  17. Bibliophile says:

    > What do you think, are these modern doorstoppers so good that they should be three times as long as Agatha Christie´s stories, or are the writers just too lazy to edit and structure their work properly before they send it off to the publisher?

    I think some long books are just the right length, e.g. The Moonstone and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, from which I wouldn’t cut one page, while others could do with some serious pruning, e.g. The Historian, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and many of Stephen King’s later books. As for crime novels, in general I prefer them to be under 400 pages because at some point in a long mystery I get impatient for the mystery to get solved and from then on I tend to skim the text rather than read it.

  18. Bibliophile: you are right that for a Victorian doorstopper 600 pages is just perfect, but crime writers should not just assume they are good enough to copy them🙂

  19. Yvette says:

    Great idea! In a million years I never would have thought of it.🙂

    I love a good thick book – a thumping good read, I must say. But only if it doesn’t read like a THICK book – know what I mean? Don’t mind it at all if it sails right along. It’s only when it becomes a chore that I occasionally give up.

  20. kathy d. says:

    I’ve stayed up nights to read those long books, but if I’m going to do that, the book has to be interesting, riveting and pull me to just keep turning the pages until I’m finished. It had better be good!
    Since I began to seriously read Sjowall/Wahloo mysteries, I so appreciated the brevity of their stories — and yet, everything is there: interesting plot, lively pace, character development, some introspection, social commentary, good puzzle. And they so well wrote tightly. So they showed it can be done.
    Andrea Camilleri writes short books with the right balance of elements.
    And since I’m now seriously binging on Nero Wolfe mysteries, I see that Rex Stout wrote tight plots which are a lot of fun to read, which are interesting and witty.

  21. Yvette: well, when I saw Margot had ´stolen´ my Xenophobia idea, I had to come up with something else😀 And I definitely know what you mean. If you wonder for every ten pages why he/she had to add all this stuff, it is just a thick book. And I know some readers see Tana French that way. I enjoy her wordy style, though.

    Kathy: there are plenty of examples that you can write wonderful stories of 2-300 pages, and in the recent past I don´t think anyone could imagine you needed 500 plus pages to write a crime story. But perhaps some folks do😉
    NB: do you have a blog, Kathy? If so, where can I find it?

  22. Great idea for a post – Paul Reiser once started a book on about page 38 rather than page 1 just to give the reader a greater sense of achievement right off the bat! My only worry about length relates to whether I can actually fit in my jacket pocket and if I can read the size of the print – if it ticks those boxes I’m off and running.

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