Joint Authorship Revisited


It came as a surprise when I realized that books with two authors could be perfectly fine.  (I picked one up accidentally, not noticing that there was a second author listed in much smaller print).  Probably they are in fact usually written by one person, with the second author providing some sort of input and the exploitation of a better known name.  In any case, I didn’t find any of the problems I expected until I came to The Traffickers, published by W.E.B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth IV in 2009.

If Griffin was the supervising author, I wish he had done a better job.  Whoever did most of the writing, he inserts a lot of long technical and historical explanations, including whole paragraphs that seem to be lifted from a sales brochure or guide book.  They interrupt the plot and give the impression that he was being paid by the word.

And then we have the main character.  Philadelphia detective Matt Payne gets off to a good start.  He’s young, rich, and good at his job.  But I already know that I’m not going to like him immediately after his introduction when the writers have him react to an emergency phone call like an idiot and a jerk.

Payne is at his computer at four thirty in the morning when he gets a call from an old friend.  As aware as anyone that a call at that hour usually means either that something bad has happened or that there’s an emergency, or both, Payne nevertheless natters on with what might be charming banter, if he was relaxing with a pal over a beer some evening, but is jarringly out of place as a response to an obviously distraught friend in trouble.

Why did they write such unnatural and inappropriate behavior?  My guess is that someone enjoyed his own nonsense too much and didn’t have the heart (or the good advice) to edit it out, thus disobeying what I think should be a basic commandment of writing good fiction:  Don’t insert actions or dialogue that detract from the plot or characterization just because you like those particular sentences.  And by the way, this reader didn’t find the said lines particularly charming.  I get that they were meant to show that the character is basically a happy-go-lucky young man, but I had a problem with Payne here and throughout the book.  I don’t know whether he seems juvenile, as opposed to young, because the authors are too old to write the part properly, or because I’m too old to enjoy reading it.


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