Pace is the rate at which a story unfolds for the reader. For some readers, it is the most important aspect of a book’s appeal. Usually, plot-driven readers will have a preference for one end of the pacing spectrum over the other, but there are also those who prefer a slow start that accelerates as the story progresses. No matter your preferred pace, there are plenty of great reads for you to choose from.
Fast-paced books feature lots of action and usually a lot of dialogue, which will be evident by the white space left on the page. Events in these exciting books unfold rapidly, moving the reader quickly through the story. Think of the big money makers in the book business: Patterson, Sandford, Coben, Scottoline, Woods, etc. Often enough, these are examples of authors who write fast-paced books. Take Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben, a page-turning suspense novel that doesn’t let up from start to finish. It follows Maya Stern, retired helicopter pilot, as she returns home after a tragic ending to her service in Iraq. Things get even worse when her husband Joe is shot dead, with Maya witnessing his murder. Events then take a really weird turn when she sees Joe on her nanny cam. Is Joe really dead? Readers will be kept guessing until the very end.
Books with an intensifying pace gradually build in momentum throughout the story, resulting in a gripping conclusion. You’ll get to some page-turning excitement eventually, but you may have to work for it. Many of Nora Robert’s romantic suspense novels are good examples of books with intensifying pace (although JD Robb would definitely be considered fast-paced). Robert’s The Search is a romantic thriller about a woman, Fiona, who 8 years ago escaped a serial killer, who is now in prison. But a copy-cat killer is now surfacing and on the hunt to finish what was started. It starts slowly, with the reader given the chance to get to know Fiona and her love interest before it ramps up the pace with the ‘to catch a killer’ action. Another example is the newly published Since We Fell by Dennis Lahane. It follows Rachel, a journalist who has an online breakdown and becomes a recluse. She is recently divorced and meets an old friend who wants to help her overcome her fear. They fall in love, marry and appear to have the perfect life, until Rachel ventures out of the house one day and sees something that makes her question everything she knows about her new husband. It’s not fast-paced all the way through but the last 50 pages, in particular, are chock full of action. The slow build is the appeal factor here.
Finally, there are books with a slower, leisurely pace…but that’s not to say they are (necessarily) boring! Due to descriptive language, focus on detail, or careful development of character of setting, these books unfold slowly, allowing the reader to savour the narrative. Often this goes hand in hand with a distinctive prose style. Our Souls at Night by the late Kent Haruf is a perfect example. It captures small-town life to perfection in Haruf’s signature spare style. Addie Moore and Louis Waters have been neighbors in the eastern Colorado farming town of Holt for over 40 years. Now, alone except for visits from their grown children, Addie has asked Louis to come over every evening and to stay with her in bed, just to get through the lonely nights. Louis is not a risk taker, but he's lonely, too, and so begins their companionable routine. Unfortunately, Addie's son Gene interferes and issues an ultimatum that forces Addie to make a difficult choice. Other popular examples of leisurely paced books include My Name in Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan.
A leisurely pace isn’t only found in literary fiction, however. Louise Penny’s beloved Inspector Armande Gamache series are mysteries with a leisurely pacing style that readers can relish. Penny is known for including descriptive details about food and the town of Small Pines, evocative tidbits that immerse the reader in Chief Inspector Gamache’s world. It isn’t a race to the finish line, that’s for sure. Similarly, Debbie Macomber’s romances are leisurely paced as well. They are gentle, heartwarming reads that tend to have too much focus on fleshing out the characters for them to be particularly action packed. For Macomber readers, it is slowly getting to know these likeable characters that holds the appeal.
All of the books mentioned here can be reserved from the County of Lennox & Addington Libraries in branch or online at www.CountyLibrary.ca.
This article was originally published in the July 2017 edition of the column Cover to Cover in the Napanee Guide.