|On Amazon: The Man Who Killed His Brother|
Have you ever read any Stephen Donaldson? He’s probably best known for his fantasy stories The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I read the First and Second Chronicles, each comprising three thick volumes, whilst at college. He’s now onto the Last Chronicle, and I’m two books through that.
Now, great plots aside, Donaldson’s writing can be quite wearisome. Thomas Covenant is a tortured character in a world of tortured characters; and if you haven’t reached for the dictionary once every thirty pages you’re either a genius or have given up…
An example. Donaldson might write:
The door faced him like a testament to his impotence. Hands clenched, teeth grinding, he forced his leaden feet to respond, every nerve afire with eldritch pain. The dull thud of his footsteps echoed from the walls, as from within a deathly morgue. He stumbled against the door, grasping spasmodically for the handle, his breaths coming in shuddering, painful rasps. The door swung open, and he fell forward into the blackness of destiny and despair.
I would write:
Bob walked across the room, opened the door, and went through it.
To which you may well point out that Donaldson is an international best-selling author worth millions, whilst my single book with its narrow technical focus netted me less than $70 in royalties last year.
Anyway, back to the discovery. I was looking for the next Jonathan Gash book in the series that Jay and I been writing about recently, and couldn’t find it. What I did find was a thick volume I bought years ago, with three mysteries by Donaldson under the pseudonym of Reed Stephens. I’ve just finished the first, The Man Who Killed His Brother: and it was great. A real page-turner. What’s more, the writing style is completely different from the Thomas Covenant books.
I should perhaps have expected that: I’ve read other works by Donaldson, like Mordant’s Need and some of the Gap series, and they do read differently. That was a long time ago, though, and I’ve recently re-read Thomas Covenant: tedious style aside, they are very, very good books.
Turning a different style to a particular theme of book is a real skill, and Donaldson certainly shows it in the Reed Stephens books. The first one is a solid, private-investigator-with-a-backstory, mystery with plenty of twists and surprises. Not the best of its kind I’ve ever read, but a nice surprise to stumble across on the bookshelf.