So this is the fourth and final pre-publication review of Going Dark. A pretty good one like the others have been. Not starred or boxed, as the Publisher's Weekly one was, but still all in all, one I'm happy with mainly because Kirkus has been so hard on my books in the past. They have a reputation for being pretty grumpy and often mean-spirited in their reviews.
Also, they singled out one aspect of writing that I work very hard on. Love scenes.
In Hall's 13th Thorn novel, the go-it-alone Key Largo PI undergoes a crash course in parenthood when he discovers the grown son he barely knows belongs to an environmental activist group with terrorism on its agenda.
In targeting the Turkey Point nuclear power plant near the Florida Keys, the Earth Liberation Front originally had planned on a nonviolent action. But extremists in the group now have a spectacular demolition in mind, having acquired a superpowerful explosive. Taken prisoner by ELF on the remote island where they're preparing the attack, Thorn is unable to talk his son, Flynn, into escaping with him. But to be around the boy in order to protect him, he convinces ELF that he supports their efforts. It helps that one of the group's leaders is a woman for whom Thorn was a surrogate father when she was a troubled teen. Meanwhile, having been alerted to ELF's presence by the logo they left inside the plant's supposedly impenetrable security system, authorities, including FBI man Frank Sheffield, plan a "force-by-force" exercise in which agents take on the plant's security forces with simulated weaponry. In the end, real shots are fired, Thorn's sidekick, Sugarman, gets more of the action than he bargained for, and betrayals are revealed—the great sex Frank has with a psychologically scarred Homeland Security agent from his past proves to be skin-deep. As ever, Hall is in colorful command of his South Florida setting, occasionally editorializing on the harm developers are doing to it. Compared to other mystery writers, he plays things refreshingly low key, but he's always in control, thriving on the setup as much as the payoff.
The plot of Going Dark doesn't have the zip of some of Hall's other Thorn books, but with its nicely observed characters and lively dialogue—and terrific sex scenes—it keeps readers turning the pages.
So, aside from a totally unnecessary quibble ("doesn't have the zip"), this completes the always fretful pre-publication period in fine style.
A lot of writers say they don't read reviews of their work, which strikes me as a noble exercise in self-restraint, but also strikes me as a little odd, or perhaps I should say, downright crazy.
I've learned a lot from reading reviews of my books. As I have also learned a lot from reading reviews on Goodreads and Amazon (which are now merging into the same thing, sort of). I can get a sense from reading lots of reviews about just how successful or unsuccessful I've been at doing what I set out to do. This is, after all, a performance art. We writers are a bit like stage performers and in that sense we can learn from the enthusiasm or lack thereof of the applause. When are our lines working? When are they not?
I used to believe that audience reaction was irrelevant. Critics be damned. I thought I was arm-wrestling with the literary gods, and if some poor soul couldn't see the value of what I was writing, then that poor soul was ignorant and not worthy of my attention.
I used to be a callow fool.
Naturally, swinging too far in the other direction, being utterly dependent on feedback, is also damaging to a writer.
I've always liked the metaphor of singing in the shower. We sing in the shower because the acoustics are good and the roar of the water seems to smooth out the frailties of our voice. But if a writer is simply singing in the shower, succumbing to self-deception by simply writing what pleases him without concern for what anyone walking by the bathroom might think (who is that screeching in there?), then the whole process of writing is no longer art, but a masturbatory exercise. You do it to please yourself alone. The world beyond your bathroom door be damned.
So finding the balance for me is important. I care about reviews, but I have to be philosophical too. Good ones are nice and they validate (for a brief moment) the work I've put into the book, and bad ones tug at my sense of self-worth and sometimes invite me to look honestly at what I've done or failed to do. But when I get back to work, writing the next sentence, the next paragraph, the next exchange of dialog, well, the reviews, good or bad, are a distant memory and have very little if any lasting effect.
Still it was a nice day to see: "terrific sex scenes."