I just finished a great book, Anatomy of a Murder, by Justice John Voelker writing as Robert Traver. This book was published in 1958 by St. Martin’s Press, Inc., New York, NY. I saw the movie eons ago (starring Jimmy Stewart), but had never taken the time to read the novel.
What’s fascinating to me, besides the most excellent story, is the style that was acceptable just sixty (60) years ago (when I was eight) and what is acceptable or perceived as acceptable by editors/publishers (and book coaches) today.
For example, adverbs. Weak verbs followed by adverbs. He used them, and you know what? They weren’t really that annoying most of the time. Of course, he didn’t use them ad nauseam, and perhaps I notice them because I’m a writer and try not to use them myself.
Also, setting thoughts in quotation marks and not in italics or in either one (which is how I do it. I trust the reader to know that if there aren’t quotation marks then the words are the character’s thoughts.) If there are quotes in books published today, then I figure the words are spoken aloud.
Additionally, pontificating, even if it’s in the mind of the protagonist or coming out of his mouth to his cohorts. Seems to me that today, editors don’t want to educate readers in addition to entertaining them.
Detailed story. Trial prep in detail. Trial procedure in detail. I’ve been told by one story coach that no one wants to read much about what goes on in court or a trial, the day-to-day, that it’s boring, that no one wants to read a book that has a lot of “a day in the life” parts.
Lengthy novels. I have no idea how long this book is but I’d guess 120,000 words. Today, most books are well under that, though there’s no firm rule. (We’ve seen a number of YAs at least that long.)
I could go on, but I have to tell you, this is one fun read. Maybe it’s just me, being a judge/lawyer, but I like seeing the inside of the way things were in the court system back in 1958 Michigan. I like the characterizations of the sheriff, the jailer, the prosecutor, the assistant attorney general, the legal assistant, the lawyer-sidekick to the protagonist-lawyer, the judge, and the protagonist-lawyer.
The characterization of Parnell, who is the lawyer-sidekick to the protagonist-lawyer, was spot on. Maybe today an editor would say he’s a cliche, but if so, he’s a most excellent cliche. Here is a quote from Parnell who I consider the secondary protagonist. He and our hero are lunching (on potato chips and sodas) by the lake.
“Judges, like people, may be divided roughly into four classes: judges with neither head nor heart–they are to be avoided at all costs; judges with head but no heart–they are almost as bad; then judges with heart but no head–risky but better than the first two; and finally, those rare judges who possess both head and a heart…”
What he says is as true of judges today, as all those years ago.
Would this book be published today? Or would the agent or editor send it back to the author and tell him to cut it by 20-40,000 words?
I researched the author and learned a bit about him. You might want to do that, too. He’s been dead a long time, but I wish he wasn’t. I wish I could have known him. He sounded like a fine man, a lot like my father (who was a judge), who loved to fish as well.