Can a book work “too well”?

One site I don’t pay nearly as much attention to is James Clar’s “These Mean Streets”, an ever-growing collection of book reviews. And honestly, I’m not sure why he’s not being paid for the privilege, because his insights are usually dead-on and very thoughtful. Case in point: his advance review of Robert Crais’ new standalone THE TWO-MINUTE RULE — which I didn’t even know was circulating anywhere, as I’ve yet to receive a copy of the galley — which has a very interesting criticism:

There’s not much that Robert Crais writes that I don’t like, and The Two Minute Rule

is no exception. This is an entertaining and (basically) well-told

tale. The initial premise that under girds the story is unique and

intriguing and your interest will be piqued from the outset. The plot

is complex and, in the end, features one of Crais’ trademark reversals.

Nevertheless, and as strange as it sounds, The Two Minute Rule suffers from the fact that it all works just a little too

well. The whole thing is so finely tuned it reads like something that

has been pre-packaged or mass produced. The final twist is relatively

transparent … and thus it fails to elicit the kind of shock and awe the

author probably intended….

Clar goes on to add that while the book isn’t “bad by any means” those who have been reading Crais for a long time will likely expect more. And considering the mixed reviews his last two Elvis Cole novels got, either fans have to temper expectations, or accept that an author goes in directions that those who loved his work once may not necessarily want to follow.

This is, of course, hardly a new topic here, but when a writer is considered to be well-regarded in a particular community for a series of books, and the later books either go in a direction that those core readers don’t like or seem to be less successful, is there some sort of dilution in effect? With Crais, the criticism has been an ongoing topic for a number of years, but it’s going to be even more interesting come the end of April when Harlan Coben’s next Myron Bolitar novel, PROMISE ME, is released — because the passage of time has probably built up that series’ reputation to a point where this next book is going to be judged rather heavily…