Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Short, Plot Driven Books

I was recently asked by a friend why there was so much "filler" in today’s mystery and thriller novels. He was turning 74 the next day and he said that mystery novels and thrillers used to be 225 – 275 pages and now they were 350 pages or more. As far as he was concerned the extra 75 pages were simply “filler.” Like Patterson, his theory is that there would be many more casual readers if the books were shorter and more linear. He used several authors who have more than twenty books out as examples.

As an exercise, I took a look at the page counts of a few mysteries and thrillers of great mystery writers whose careers have spanned decades to see if the length hypothesis was true. 

Agatha Christie's first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was published in 1920 has 167 pages, but Curtain, the last book published while she was still alive in 1975, has 224 pages. 

Lawrence Block's first published Matthew Scudder novel came out in 1976 and had 192 pages. HIs most recent novel, All the Flowers are Dying came out in 2005 and had 384 pages. 

Sue Grafton's first Kinsey Milhone mysteryA is for Alibi published in 1982 clocks in at 320 pages while her most recent, X clocks in at 416. 

Michael Connolly's first Harry Bosch novel, Black Echo, came out in 1992 with a whopping 496 pages. The Crossing, which came out last November has only 400 pages, which seems to buck the trend. 

I had to ask myself why the books are longer these days. It seems with 24-hour everything it’s not as though we have more leisure time.

And it seems like more and more authors are producing novellas these days - from Karin Slaughter and JA Jance.

What do you think? Do you think mysteries and thrillers are too long? Will you check out James Patterson's new line of shorter length novels? 


  1. Yes. And No.

    Yes I often complain about the length of modern novels and often imagine which swathes my red pen would cut out. Not all long novels feel too long for me (e.g. I just read CJ Sansom's Dissolution which was over 400 pages and I loved every word) but there is often repetition and unnecessary padding. I think it has something to do with the scarcity of editing these days - especially when an author becomes a 'name' that can sell books without trying - these authors seem not to get edited at all, more's the pity.

    However that doesn't mean I'll be checking out Patterson's next money spinning venture. It was a while ago I admit but the last time I read something of his it was awful. Short sentences. Random bits of action. No character development and precious little point to any of it. That's not what I want from a short novel. I think a novel can be short (or the right length) but still offer the complete package of compelling plot, good character development and even some social commentary/exploration of themes. Recent reads for me that would fall into this category are Dough Johnstone's The Jump (258 pages) and Emma Viskic's Resurrection Bay (263 pages).

    1. Thank you Bernadette for your comments. I loved Dissolution as well, but I agree with what you say about many books that length not being able to carry it. I haven't read The Jump or Resurrection Bay, but I will take a look at them.

  2. I agree with Bernadette, yes some books are too long and others by a terrific author whom you love can be too short.
    Yes, I probably would check out Patterson's smaller, shorter books.

    1. Hi Sharon - Thank you for your comment. I'd love to hear what you think of Patterson's books when they do come out.

  3. I also agree with a lot of what Bernadette said. I think many books today are more pages because of less writing on a page, more space between lines (leading to those who know typesetting), and more paragraphs and chapters, putting less on each page.

    I also don't read Patterson's books. I find them full of air (lots of blank space on each page) and mostly "fluff". Not worth the money you pay. I wonder if the books he will be publishing will cost less since they have less pages?

    1. Jacki - Thank you for your comments. I imagine the Patterson books would be lower priced. Just a guess. But if you're trying to expand a market and get people interested in something new (or something old revived) it seems like you would make it lower priced.