We live in a world overpopulated not only with people but with books. I’ve heard there are currently about a million books published each year. This plethora of storytelling is diffuse: hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, ebook, audio – what we once called books on tape. The one constant among these formats or versions is that all employ digital means of publishing.
Why bring this up? Because buying a book is, and mostly always has been, an impulse purchase. What are we looking for when we shop for a book, wether it’s in a physical bookstore or online? Sometimes we don’t know. Sometimes we have to paw through a work to get a sense that we’d like to read it. Now it’s no longer an impulse; it’s a big deal, a commitment of time, which is of course our most limited and precious commodity. We look for books that might have a degree of familiarity, even if it’s one as perfunctory as an author we’ve read before and enjoyed. Yet even that has limitations, because most authors write to a genre and don’t stray, let they lose their following – and unfortunately in too many instances write the same book over and again. So much for familiarity.
Without belaboring this conundrum, let me again invoke what Alan Cheuse once said to me when I asked how he chose books to review (which is the same sensibility as for us readers). He said he looked for a certain “je ne sais quoi,” which the dictionary defines as “a quality that cannot be described or named easily.” Ohh – kay, well, thanks a lot. But it’s true, isn’t it? It’s like art: you know it when you see it. Then you decide if you like it or not. But you can’t figure that out by looking at a book’s cover, or title, or the back cover blurb, or even the first page. So what is that strange, undefinable je ne sais quoi element that tells us we’re gonna have a good read?
I don’t know either, but it sure is fun when you find it, as i did when I came across Brian Freeman’s Immoral. It was a strange trip which began on Kindle and led to Audible, when I realized I sought something to accompany me while I began a woodworking project in my shop. That meant it couldn’t be too thoughtful, so I was browsing through thrillers: my friends-in-sound Michael Connelly, John Sandford, a few others who had new books coming out over the next few months but nothing right now. No Greaney. No Baldacci. No Patterson.
Then I came across a newcomer to my bookshelves: Brian Freeman. He’s written a bevy of books which looked distinct and different, and that interested me. So I decided to begin with the first, as I’d done with Sandford, Child and Crais in years past.
I was not disappointed. Immoral is terrific. Freeman published it in 2006 and hasn’t stopped writing successful novels. (I’m sure my unfamiliarity with his work is due to the volume of new volumes each year). His plot is unique, although familiar. His characters are vivid and dimensional. My ears gobbled this tale down, burped and asked for more. I assured them Brian Freeman will be returning again and again, but they would have to take a break with something different next. After all, I’m not a binge reader any more than I’m a Netflix binge-viewer.