Dark Passages: Writers Lost & Found

My newest column for the Los Angeles Times takes a close look at HAILEY’S WAR by Jodi Compton, her first book in several years. Only a small number of people read her earlier books, but I was one them and thought she had great talent. As such I’m very glad to see her back publishing books again, and this new book more than lives up to earlier promise. Here’s how the piece opens:

The comeback: Publishing as a whole is affected by this particular

scourge, but genre fiction in particular suffers from this plight in the

most obvious way. It’s when a writer appears, sometimes with

considerable fanfare, with a new series, garnering an audience with each

successive volume. The problem is, if the audience isn’t big enough, or

the money paid out to said writer doesn’t produce expected sales, the

publisher may cancel the series after just two or three books (or, in

truly worst-case scenarios, after just one). Another company may pick up

the slack for a variable advance, or the writer strikes out with new

territory, often under a pen name. Or in many instances, the writer

simply disappears, his or her career over.

Lately, a handful of writers have sidestepped the “whatever happened

to…?” parlor game by publishing new books years after they were last

heard from, book-wise….

Jodi Compton, however, may be the most stubborn of the “lost and found

writers.” She has a new publisher, and a new series but has kept her

real name and the same authorial voice, more or less. Her first series,

cut short after two books, featured Minnesota police detective Sarah

Pribek, whose ability to keep up with her male peers, inscrutable

personality and complicated relationship with her husband (and fellow

cop) Michael made her seem prickly, but all the more winning. If

Compton’s plotting in “The 37th Hour” (2005) and “Sympathy Between

Humans” (2006) faltered in places, her treatments of setting and

characterization more than compensated.

But inscrutable heroines are more in vogue, thanks to a wonderful little

fictional phenom named Lisbeth Salander. Something tells me that if

Hailey Cain, the 23-year-old protagonist of Compton’s new novel **“Hailey’s

War”** (Shaye Areheart: 286 pp., $22.99) and Salander ever met,

they’d circle around, size each other up and accept some grudging mutual

respect that might, with a lot of time, develop into mutual loyalty.

Woe to those who think Hailey is some knockoff; as Compton makes clear

very early on, she is a creature very much of her own making, singing a

metaphorical tune few, if any, can hear…

Read on for the rest.