If I see a crime fiction novel (or any other, come to that) of more than 500 pages, my sub-editing hand starts to twitch uncontrollably. I mean, come on, does an author really need that much space to tell a good yarn?
Oh, all right, Marshall Karp does. The Rabbit Factory weighs in at 632 pages, the kind of size that would usually see me keeping it out of the way of small children, who might be crushed by it, or utilising it as a fly squasher come the summer.
When I saw the comic-style cover, I started to worry. And when I read the blurb, which compared Karp to Carl Hiaasen, I twitched even more and wondered about sneaking off and reviewing one of the bazillion books from the James Patterson franchise that creep up on me every time I turn my back.
But I was brave, friends, and The Rabbit Factory was my book of the month by a mile, and probably one of the best of the year. It's an indulgent wallow, but Karp tells a damn good story about two Los Angeles cops on the trail of someone who's bumped off a theme park rabbit. Yes, you could lose 150 pages and one of the sub-plots, but I'm not complaining. This is classy writing.
I suppose the 'how long is too long' question can be answered briskly by the response 'however long it takes to tell the story!' Yeah, well, maybe, but you sometimes wonder how much editing is going on at some of our august publishing houses.
Aline Templeton's The Darkness and the Deep could have been shortened by at least 50 pages and needed a firm editorial hand on some very bloated dialogue. The main character, DI Marjory Fleming, has a nasty habit of talking in clichés – "needs must when the devil drives" and "discretion might be the better part of valour". In fact, after nearly 400 pages of her homilies, I was reminded of my mother, who went down in the annals of Wheeler family history for writing on my brother's 21st birthday card: "Moderation in celebration"!
The Darkness and the Deep isn't a bad book, incidentally. Templeton does a first-rate job of drawing the reader into the gossip mill of a small Scottish coastal village, and there's a stunning scene where the lifeboat runs aground in a storm, with loss of life – and of course it turns out to be murder.
Another author who grabs you by the scruff of the neck and dumps you firmly into her world is Sheila Quigley. Some of you will know her back story – she was a grandmother of eight living in a council house in the north east of England, whose life changed when she signed a £300,000 deal with Random House.
Every Breath You Take is the latest in her series set in the small town of Houghton-le-Spring. Quigley's writing is sometimes rough around the edges, and the police procedural angle is pretty ordinary. But what makes her books more than worth the effort are the ordinary people that leap off the pages and who you can 'hear' every time they open their mouths, and the setting that's so real you're convinced you're in the scruffy High Street watching the action.
It was actually a pretty good month for books and I thought I was going to make it to the end without being thwacked over the head by some of the genre clichés that I've complained about in the past. Sadly, I didn't quite make it. Sometimes you reckon some authors never see a bandwagon they don't want to jump on.
My heart sank when I started to read Chris Mooney's The Missing . . . CSI and a serial killer combined. Erk! I never watch the former and am definitely burned out on the latter. But Mooney redeemed himself with a stunning double-whammy of an ending that came out of leftfield. If I'd have been in the cinema, I'd have squawked loudly, thrown my popcorn over the person next to me and been asked to leave!
Reviews of all of these will be coming to a website near you very soon – or are already reclining regally there.
*Don't worry … No fluffy wabbits were harmed in the writing of this column!