I just reading a couple of books that came highly recommended. One was cleverly-plotted, full of witty dialogue, quick pacing, and well-drawn characters; the other was Ready Player One.
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett isn't considered his best work and the ending is unsatisfactory, but it's such fun to read it doesn't really matter. Nick and Nora Charles banter is the sort of thing that could (and did) launch a series of films based on the characters and increasingly distanced from the source material. It's both light and literary, and there aren't many authors who can pull that one off.
The cover blurb, appropriately enough, is provided by Raymond Chandler "Hammett...wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before." I think that's exactly right. The dialogue sequences, with the light banter mixed in with some serious sleuthing, are peppered with side-glances and ambiguous but significant facial expressions. It's vivid without being verbose, which is one hell of a trick.
The story itself is gripping enough, but the fun is in the telling. I still struggle with describing myself as a fan of detective fiction, but, having finally read Chandler and Hammett, I'm starting to come around. I know that's kind of like being a Bob Marley fan and saying you like reggae, but so be it. Hammett lives up to his reputation.
I'm late to the Ready Player One party, in no small part because it's a book so obviously aimed directly at me. I'd heard so much about it and about how I just had to get it that picking it up and reading it seemed kind of redundant. A cyberspace book with a lot of pop culture Easter eggs thrown in? That's my wheelhouse all right.
Having read it, I can see why it's such a polarizing book. It's a tween-ish hero story in 80s drag which makes it a very odd bird indeed. Are people may age, for whom the window dressing is suited, going to get into what is an extremely simplistic story, or are teens going to think that the 80s are just. that. cool?
The story itself is fine for what it is. It could just as easily be set in Camelot, or Sherwood Forest, or Azeroth, or any stock fantasy setting. It's extremely linear, with no real sense of menace and no real growth on the part of the main character other than an almost instant about face regarding the McGuffin. This happens, then this happens, then this happens, until you reach the end.
Of course, the story isn't the secret sauce here, it's all of the extremely detailed references to my high school years. The lists of favorite movies, bands, video games, and TV shows take up pages and pages of the novel. It's not really an "Easter egg" if the author is showing each reference in your face and saying "Look at this! Isn't this cool?!?!"
Reading it was slow going until I got about halfway through and I found myself just skimming the lists and details like "here is the hero played a perfect game of this video game," and "this character has memorized every single line of dialogue in this film, here, let me show you!" It skipped along briskly once I stopped paying attention to what it was that made this book special. Take that for what it's worth, I guess.
To sum up, I've just started reading The Maltese Falcon and don't plan on pick up Ernest Cline's follow up novel, T̶h̶e̶ ̶L̶a̶s̶t̶ ̶S̶t̶a̶r̶f̶i̶g̶h̶t̶e̶r̶ E̶n̶d̶e̶r̶'̶s̶ ̶G̶a̶m̶e̶ Armada.