Wednesday 23 August 2023

The October List by Jeffery Deaver - review

I've become increasingly interested in reverse chronology as a method of storytelling - so much so that these past few days I've been writing a short story in this style, just to see if I can do it. There are some fascinating examples of this kind of writing out there and I discussed the TV series Rellik recently; I thought it well-written and effective. So I was prompted to pick up a copy of Jeffery Deaver's The October List, billed as 'a novel in reverse with photographs by the author'. 

In a very helpful short preface, Deaver explains how he drew inspiration from Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along. The timeline he opted for was just two days and he took photographs to illustrate each chapter: some are intended as clues, while others are not significant to the plot. He says the book was the most challenging he has written.

Jeffery Deaver is a brilliant mystery plotsmith, one of the best America has produced, and if anyone can pull off such an ambitious project, it is him. Yet as I read the early chapters, I felt curiously unengaged. The story didn't seem to work for me, as I couldn't get involved with the characters or the situation. Nor did I 'get' the photographs. The writing was also unexpectedly flat, which was a disappointment. So I could easily have given up half-way through.

Thank goodness I didn't lose faith. The story really warms up towards the end as one realises what Deaver is really up to. The twists that come in the closing chapters are marvellous. It's a very clever piece of writing indeed. In order to achieve his effects, he has made some sacrifices, and clearly some readers haven't been impressed. However, for me this is a novel which is definitely worth investing the time in, even if you don't care for the first half of the book. I've been interested to see online reviews from commentators whose reaction to the story was much the same as mine. If you like tricksy stories, this one is definitely worth considering. 

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