I’ve been reading since I was knee high to a duck, and for all these years I’ve generally gotten into new authors rarely, and with no real expectations. I had two rules for every book by a new author that I picked up. (1) I vowed to give it the benefit of the doubt, and (2) I would read it from start to finish. One thing that has changed, however, as I’ve gotten older, is that I don’t want to waste my time if I’m not wowed from close to the start. There’s too little time left in life.
Several authors have gone down this new path in the past few years, and I feel I’m better off for it. Of course, it also means if someone is a slow starter (a la J.R.R. Tolkien) I’ll never get into him/her because I’ve never gotten past the start. I think it’s a good tradeoff, though, so it doesn’t bother me too much. In my family (we are all readers) this has become a commonality to all of us, and we often swap names of authors who have underwhelmed us and those who have proven to us their worth.
Usually, for me, once an author has found a place in my heart I’m hooked for life. Even if they disappoint me every once in a while (Dean Koontz), they ARE generally given the benefit of the doubt because of the good will they’ve built up with me. It’s been true since I was a kid, and it remains true today. That’s why Alafair Burke truly intrigues me so much, because she’s the exception that proves the rule.
First off, if you asked me today which new authors I would recommend, I would give you her name in a heartbeat. She’s an excellent writer, who has solid plots, who has great twists, and who keeps pages turning. I’ve read several books from her in a two month period, and I keep looking for more. But, unlike many of the other authors in my “must read” list, I don’t recommend checking out all of her books. In fact, one particular group of her books I avoid at all cost.
I know, it seems strange. Why is this one author the exception? How can I be so enamored of her on one hand and so standoffish on the other? Well, that one’s pretty much simple when you break it down. You see, Alafair Burke writes three specific types of books, two of which are series, and the third are standalones. I absolutely adore her standalones. Books like The Wife, The Ex, and Long Gone are positively fascinating books that fit what I said above about the author’s style. And her Ellie Hatcher series is beyond reproach. She’s created a protagonist who is real, with her flaws and her decision making issues, but as a reader I’m in love with her.
But the problem comes with the other series — with Samantha Kincaid. Where Hatcher is someone I can get on board with, Kincaid is rather… bland. There’s something just not quite three-dimensional about her character, so she falls flat. I’ve read three books in this series now, and I just started a fourth. I’m trying my best to give Ms. Kincaid the benefit of the doubt here, hopeful that she’ll evolve into a stronger character, someone I actually care about, but she hasn’t. And I don’t. In fact, I’m very close to making the command decision to drop her like a bag of rocks.
It’s odd to me that someone who I truly appreciate in style and voice can lose voice when it comes to one series and yet maintain it when it comes to everything else she writes. I’ve really never seen it before in my years of being a reader. Perhaps it’s just me, and I expect more of her because of the other books I’m enamored with from Ms. Burke. Or maybe it’s just that she’s set the bar so high with everything else that she’s written, that Kincaid comes off a bit lost and underdeveloped.
Regardless of the reasoning, if you’re up for a new author, I still recommend Alafair Burke, with the slightest of reservations saved specifically for the one series. As an introduction to Ms. Burke, I suggest The Ex. It’s a great read.