I accidentally followed some author I’d never heard of simply because her tweets tended toward humor. After reading a few of her clever observations, I picked up Killer Instinct, her first book. Wow. What a great book. And don’t I feel dim for not having heard of her before? Yes. (But I’m used to that feeling.)
The best part about discovering an established author is: No wait for the next book!
What makes an author like Ms. Sharp stand out from others is her skill. The writing is exceptional. Not just the metaphors and similes, but even the conjunctions. The little bits that hold a story together. Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “Take care of the unions and the rest will take care of itself.” He referred to union of beam and joist. Architecture and writing are parallel arts. Like architecture, writing requires detailed unions, a firm foundation, a plot with a view, and above all, it must be livable. Frank Lloyd Wright’s attention to all those elements, right down to the unions, made his the most sought after architecture in history. Likewise, Zöe Sharp’s attention to design elements both strategic and tactical make hers not just exciting thrillers, but beautiful as well.
The unions in writing are the transitions from suspense to explosive excitement. Often characters stumble from point A to point B with tiresome clichés. Ms. Sharp addresses these droll details with passages like this:
Into the quiet that followed came the raucous squeal of children at war. Somewhere upstairs, a baby cried relentlessly.
An important plot point followed that transition. A plot point involving children in a book about nightclubs and rapists. And it’s not what you’re thinking. It was such a clever transition and exceptional point that the reader is unwittingly drawn ever deeper into a tangled and fascinating web of character motivations.
The foundation in writing is the plausibility. Where women protagonists are concerned, this is too often swept under the ‘oh just go with it’ principle. My favorite example of failure in plausibility is the Angelina Jolie movie, SALT. She beats up steroid-fed giants left and right despite having a height, weight, and reach disadvantage. Unreal. Completely. Not so with Ms. Sharp. She lays the ground work for a woman who can beat up big men and explains how. Not just using the right leverage, which is possible with a little luck, but in avoiding the unnecessary fight and outright fleeing when appropriate. Charlie Fox knows when to stand and when to run. Even more important to a believable character is what happens in her head. Ms. Sharp makes Charlie Fox come alive with thoughts like this:
If it’s touched you personally, you look at other people taking risks with a sense of anger, as though they’re belittling your own experience.
Even out of context, you know what she’s talking about. These small but important pieces build a solid foundation on which a sympathetic character can stand.
A writer’s plot is a threaded rope that a mystery/thriller fan like me can usually unravel by halfway through. If you read enough, red herrings are easy to spot. What keeps jaded readers like me both distracted and involved is the subplot. A well-placed subplot is like a garden a picture window’s foreground. In Ms. Sharp’s case, the subplot is heartbreaking and real. With only this passage, you can almost feel the tension between Charlie Fox and her parents:
I tried that out for size on the twisted corner of my psyche that had been feeding on my bitterness and hostility towards them for the last couple of years. It had been leaching acid into my mind like a perforated ulcer.
A good writer can make a passage like that seem real. Ms. Sharp is better than good, she binds you to the character so tightly that you’ll clench your fist while reading. That’s what makes it livable. I was not surprised to see someone bragging on Facebook just yesterday that she’d just acquired an original edition of Killer Instinct at considerable cost.
I’m looking for one myself.
Bottom line: Run right out and buy this book! Or any of Ms. Sharp’s other books.
Peace, Seeley James
NOTE: After reading the book, I added Charlie Fox to a poll asking “Who is Your Favorite Heroine?” She won. Ahead of Katniss Everdeen. Ahead of Tempe Brennan and Kay Scarpetta. Obviously, she has a lot of fans. So… if you are one of those fans, and right now you’re gloating because you knew about Ms. Sharp years ago, tell me this: How come you didn’t tell me about Charlie Fox? Huh? Yeah. See how you are? And I thought we were friends.