When Blurbs Go Bad: THE DROP by Michael Connelly

An anonymous copywriter has ruined one of my favorite days of the year.

(Oh, the DRAMA!)

Once a year, a new Michael Connelly novel comes out. Once a year, I buy the new Michael Connelly novel on the day it comes out or pre-order it online, go straight home and read it all in one sitting. It’s like a ritual. I can’t “spare” it or string it out; I have to read it immediately and I can’t stop once I’ve started. And I love doing this.

This year was especially kind to me because Connelly released two novels, the second being The Drop which was out last week in the UK and Ireland, and which had me counting down the days until I fly home and so could buy it. Imagine my unadulterated joy when I wandered into an English bookshop here in sunny France on Friday, and found a single copy of The Drop. €4 more expensive than it would have been at home and inexplicably wrapped neatly in plastic, but anyway. It would do nicely. Needless to say I sacrificed an afternoon’s coffee-drinking in the sun and skipped writing my own novel’s 2,000 words (bad girl), and came straight back to the apartment to read it.

And it was great, as Connelly always is. But the more I read, the more I realized that the blurb text on the back was essentially giving away a large part of the book’s ending. There were two spoilers, one medium, one large, right on the back of the book.

How could this possibly have happened? How could no one have noticed? How could the person who wrote it in the first place not realize what they’d done? And so, because I’m an equal opportunist when it comes to examples of what not to do with your book—self-published or traditionally published, it doesn’t matter—I shall now share with you my thoughts [read: vent my anger] about how badly this book was packaged. You can file it away under “What Not To Do” and my blood pressure will return to normal—we’ll all be winners.

Note: if you haven’t read The Drop yet and are planning to, don’t read this post OR the book’s blurb.

I don’t normally buy UK editions of Connelly’s novels. When I moved to Florida in 2006 I started buying the nicer US hardbacks, and I preferred them to what I call “fake hardbacks” which is what Ireland gets. (I don’t know what the technical term is for them, but they’re hardback-sized but with a soft cover, as in the picture below. Ireland tends to get stuck with these even if the very same book is in real hardback across the Irish Sea in the UK. I don’t get why.) Since, as regular readers will know, my books have to match, I’ve been buying Connelly’s US hardbacks from The Book Depository ever since, where you can pick whatever edition you want and get it shipped to you for free. (Or accidentally order a large print edition. But that was really my fault and at least its cover still matched.) So this is my first experience in a while with a UK edition of a Connelly novel and I’ll be going straight back to my US hardbacks, begging them to forgive my France-induced disloyalty.

I’m going to refrain from bitching about the cover image, which is a window almost completely covered with blinds. It has nothing to do with the book and could apply to virtually any novel in which any scene takes place in a building of any sort, but we’ll let it go. It is purple and I do like me some of that.

The laughs start on the front cover, with the tagline: “Harry Bosch is a cop on the edge.” Um… he’s what now? On the edge? Well, no. He isn’t. Not at all. Bosch is Bosch in this book like he’s Bosch in every other book, except getting older and closer to retirement, and since I’ve been reading about him now for going on eleven years and am slightly and perhaps somewhat inappropriately in love with him, I feel I can say this with some authority. Bosch has been on the edge at times—like in Nine Dragons, when his own family was in danger—but he wasn’t in this. Not at all. I actually thought he was going a little soft, chatting up ladies and eating tacos and what not.

I’m sure Connelly himself would agree with my disagreement, considering that on page 303, Bosch, discussing his handling of the investigation with his daughter, muses, “I might be losing the edge you need to do this.”

Yep. He actually says that. In the book. The book with “Harry Bosch is a cop on the edge” on the cover.

So.

Um, yeah. Bosch isn’t a cop on the edge or anywhere near it, and that line was written by someone who obviously hadn’t as much as glanced in the direction of the book. But let’s leave them off on that one too. After all, does that line matter? Hardly, considering the fact that if it said “Harry Bosch is a cop buying toilet paper at Tescos”, I’d still read it.

The blurb is where the real damage was done. This is its first three paragraphs:

In the Open-Unsolved Unit, where detective Harry Bosch is investigating cases going back fifty years, what you pray for is a cold hit—when new technology matches old DNA evidence to someone who thought they’d gotten away with murder. For Harry, the thrill of that knock on the door, when justice finally catches up with a killer, is what he lives for.

But when a lab result links the brutal rape-murder of a teenage girl in 1989 to convicted rapist Clayton Pell, it’s anything but the slam-dunk it seems. Pell’s DNA was found on the victim—but, impossibly, he was only eight years old at the time. Harry needs to solve the mystery fast—or the validity of DNA evidence in dozens of cases could be challenged.

Then suddenly Harry’s got another mystery on his hands—and this one has danger written all over it. A man jumped—or was pushed—from a window at the Chateau Marmont. So far so simple—except that the victim’s father is Councilman Irvin Irving, a man who’s been intent on destroying Harry’s career for years. And now Irving is insisting that Harry head up the investigation.

So, so far so good. This is all very intriguing and all the events described take place within the first two or three chapters.

But then there’s this:

As the two cases circle round each other like complex strands of DNA, Harry begins to uncover two of the city’s deepest secrets: a killer operating for as many as three decades without being detected, and a political conspiracy that goes back into the dark history of the police department.

First of all, the two cases don’t circle round each other like anything. The only link is that Harry is investigating them both and they are so not intertwined that at one point I found myself thinking, Hmm. We haven’t heard about the other case in a while. I wonder when we’ll get back to it?  That’s strike one.

Second of all, this blurb needs to end at “secrets”. Because do you know when the reader finds out in the book what the blurb happily reveals after that word? Well by my estimation, the reader discovers the political conspiracy around page 174, or between chapters 18 and 19. The book is 388 pages over 42 chapters, so that’s nearly half-way into the book. Half a book’s worth of a fun guessing game, annihilated. By the back cover copy.

But it gets OH SO MUCH worse.

When does the reader find out that Harry has discovered a serial killer operating for as many as three decades without being detected? On page 333. Chapter 36. Or, in a 388-page, 42-chapter book, ALMOST RIGHT AT THE END. There is a character Harry’s looking for throughout the book, but his whereabouts and activities since he was last heard from are unknown. They are only discovered by the reader when Harry discovers him. Unless you read the back cover first, of course.

Moreover, this is not a book about a serial killer which the blurb kind of leads you to believe. It’s really about the other story, the political conspiracy. The serial killer thing is a B-story culminating in a nice set piece at the very end which makes the blurb even more wrong.

I don’t know who is responsible for writing the text that appears on the jacket of The Drop. Maybe it’s a copywriter who was given a one-page synopsis and told to get to it. Maybe it’s someone else. Maybe the writer even had input (although if he did and is responsible for this, that basically shatters my entire world view. I may need to seek the assistance of a mental health professional). So I don’t know whose forehead to paint “MORON” on, but they must be connected to Orion, the publishers, who are part of Hachette. They must be professionals. The blurb has similar problems on the US edition, so maybe it’s the US publishers fault. Whoever it is that’s at fault, I want them to know that:

  • This is disgracefully stupid
  • You spoiled the book for me.

Thank you dear blog readers for letting me vent. Perhaps now I can move on with my life.

And to the Steve Jobs biography.

Here’s hoping I never have any actual problems, eh?

7 thoughts on “When Blurbs Go Bad: THE DROP by Michael Connelly

  1. Diane says:

    Oh, no, that’s so annoying. I’ve definitely had books spoiled by blurbs, too, to the extent that I avoid reading them (or just skim the first bit) now. It’s the only way to be safe 😉

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I can’t seem to NOT read them, but I’m going to try in the future. Especially after this! Honestly this is the first time I’ve come across such an epic spoiler. And on a Michael Connelly book. I may never get over it. ;-D

  2. rachelenichols says:

    I don’t read novels only for the ending. I think novels should be savored one chapter at a time, not gulped in one bolt. If I like the novel enough I will read it over and over again (why buy it otherwise?) even though I already know the ending.

  3. eltiomolonio says:

    Hi Catherine,

    I’ve just found your blog by chance, and I’m pleased to discover that you are also a great fan of Michael Connelly, and a bit OCD when it comes to matching editions. In my case I started buying MC’s books precisely in Ireland (I’m from Spain), and now I have to stick to the Orion editions, even if it means that I have to wait for the book a few more weeks, like it happened with The Black Box, which was released in Spanish even before than it was in English! I only make exceptions with the stand-alones (well, when I bought The Lincoln Lawyer I didn’t think Mickey Haller would become a regular), and it drove me mad that for The Black Box, they changed the title from uppercase typography to title case.
    Anyway, I was wondering if you bought your edition of The Drop in Waterstones, because I’ve read that Michael Connelly wrote a short story entitled “Homicide Special” to be included only in the Waterstones edition of The Drop, and I’ve been trying to find it for months. I live in Australia now (where the books are damn expensive, although I found a pretty good second hand aussie edition of The Black Box -with the title in uppercase- for 6 dollars, but again, it wouldn’t match the rest of my collection; I don’t know what I’m gonna do when The Gods of Guilt comes out!), so the chances are quite low. If you have it and there is any way of getting to read it (transcript or whatever) I would be very grateful.
    Kind regards,

    Jaime

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