I see blogs where the writers just list their favorite books or authors but they don’t say why. I’m a fan of good fiction; love to lose myself in a story. Most of my favorite writers are good character writers. I want to get into the protagonist’s head.
I just finished one of Barry Eisler’s books about John Rain, the assassin. Who would think you would want to get into an assassin’s head? But John Rain is a fascinating, complex character. He is a misfit, a killer-for-hire, a tortured soul. Yet he has such strong morals that when he thinks he has been led or tricked into breaking his own rules, it stays with him – disturbing his ongoing thoughts, his dreams, his physical being. He usually ends up eliminating the problems that he caused when stepping over his own boundaries, plus the person who led him down the wrong path.
Norman Green gets into the heads of multiple characters with each book. Sometimes he works with a single protagonist and sometimes with a group, but he uses multiple points of view. (His book, Dead Cat Bounce, features the same group of people as his first novel, Shooting Dr. Jack. His two latest novels (2010), The Last Gig and Sick Like That, both feature a tough female P.I., Allessanda ‘Al’ Martillo.) All of his characters, not just the protagonist(s) are many-layered. Each character is different. Green has extraordinary insight. My favorite of his characters is probably the thief in Way Past Legal who kidnapped his own son and took him to Maine to start a new life. He was cold and hardened by life and by prison, but he was tender and loving, too. He was even a bird watcher! So out of character! But Green made it fit.
Lee Child writes about Jack Reacher, who, unlike Eisler’s John Rain, appears to be quite comfortable in his own skin. He is a loner who wanders the country. He started life as an Army brat and became an officer in the Military Police, so he never stayed in one place for long. Now, out of the Army on his own, he wants no ties or permanence in his life. He has no possessions, carries nothing with him on the road. Of course, he finds trouble wherever he goes – terrible people, criminal activity. He always cleans up the problem, at times saving whole towns from evil. Jack Reacher is not a killer-for-hire, he’s a killer for John Reacher, a vigilante. He is also a complex character.
I don’t like just the dark novels; I also love good humor. Carl Hiaasen’s character’s antics are outrageously funny – laugh-out-loud funny. Janet Evanovich writes about Stephanie Plum, a New Jersey bounty hunter (and others) who can make me laugh so hard I almost fall out of my chair.
I also love a good plot. I don’t want to figure out “who done it” half way through the book. I’ve been known to put down many a book before finishing. But, even if the plot is a little sloppy, I’ll stick with it if I’m enjoying the characters. Attention to detail in the setting can also keep me hooked. Barry Eisler’s Tokyo in Rain Fall was so real I felt like I’d lived there.
Other novels fascinate me. The Room by Emma Donoghue would probably be classed as a literary novel. A very unusual story narrated by a five-year-old boy who escapes from a room where he has spent his entire life. Again, it’s character driven. I don’t know how the author did such a good job of getting into a child’s head. This is not a children’s book.