While writing, NY Times Bestselling author James Rollins recommends that authors pick one textbook, a "reference" manual, of sorts. For me, that textbook is anything written by Steve Berry.
I've learned a lot on writing craft from Steve over the years, in person, but also by studying his work. The Paris Vendetta is a prime example of why his novels have vaulted onto the NY Times bestseller list - and why I still have so much to learn.
This book is tight. Steve is the master of using appropriate, explosive verbs and succinct description. There is not one extraneous phrase in the whole novel - every word counts. And don't even get me started on dialogue. While I often struggle to create conversation that is distinct and natural, Steve makes it seem effortless.
Often I am so caught up in Steve's impeccable craft that the lessons on pacing, structure, tension and character development can overshadow the plot. Not in this instance.
The Paris Vendetta is a killer of a story. The action begins on the first page, and from there, "stuff happens." Exciting stuff! Cotton Malone, Steve's signature protagonist, is thrust into action again and the story moves at breakneck pace, interweaving Napoleon-era history with modern treasure hunting. The stakes are high and the players are powerful - together creating breathtaking suspense.
I love, love, love Cotton, a kind of unassuming action hero who simply gets the job done. He is complex, of course, but his actions, his words, his emotions are all in sync with the character Steve has developed over the course of his other bestselling novels.
I also love Eliza Laroque, one of the primary antagonists in The Paris Vendetta. With her, Steve has created a strong, independent woman whose wit often made me smile, another testament to Steve's incredible ability to write compelling dialogue.
Doubtful dialogue can have such an impact? Check out this example, a fabulous conversation between the characters of Sam and Meagan:
She came closer. Barely a few inches away. "Did you know that a kiss shortens life by three minutes?"
He considered her strange inquiry, then shook his head.
"Not a peck on the cheek. A real kiss, like you mean it, causes palpitations to such a degree that the heart works harder in four seconds than it normally would in three minutes."
"There was a study. Hell, Sam, there's a study for everything. 480 kisses - again like you mean it - will shorten a person's life by one day. 2,300 will cost you a week. 120,000? There goes a year."
She inched closer.
He smiled. "And the point?"
"I can spare three minutes of my life, if you can."
After reading that, I immediately awakened my handsome husband and stole six minutes of his life.
The Book In My Bag Today: Smash Cut, Sandra Brown