When I opened up the new Entertainment Weekly and saw that a) Stephen King had a new column and b) he had discovered Robert Goddard, it was cause for celebration. After roughly 10 years of being convinced I'm the only person Stateside who knows and appreciates the perfectly plotted thrillers Robert Goddard turns out on an annual basis someone is giving the man his due. Even better that the someone in question is Stephen King.
A few words about Stephen King. He is awesome. I say this as someone who has only read two of his books (although I have seen most of the movie versions) and is not a horror genre aficionado. I loved The Stand (an amazing audiobook experience) and if I weren't a complete wimp I'd have read more of King's work by now. But his undisputed claim to awesomeness lies elsewhere: Stephen King is a very successful writer who loves books. He speaks up for readers. He isn't a literary snob. I get the feeling he'd rather that readers enjoy his books than have universal critical acclaim. I also get the feeling he'd be writing away even if he'd never made the best seller lists. Best of all, he's generous with his airtime, he writes a column in EW once a month that praises pop culture in general (and calls it on its shit when warranted) and books in particular. He respects audiobooks and, now, e-books. For all of that, he is awesomeness personified.
And now, he's telling the EW world they need to check out Robert Goddard. The Pope needs to rethink his policy on living canonization.
On to Robert Goddard. Robert Goddard is not the rocket scientist. He may be rocket scientist smart and probably is but he is not the Robert Hutchings Goddard who used to pop up first when I typed the name into Amazon's US site. Robert Goddard is the author of 19 intricately plotted often historically based thrillers, nearly all of them perfect. He is the reason started ordering from Amazon.co.uk a few years ago. I found my first Goddard novel in South Africa on a business trip. My hotel outside Jo'burg was attached to a mall -no joke - and the stationery store there had a smallish book department. On three trips to the mall after work one paperback cover kept catching my eye. It was an out of focus photo of a woman in a red coat walking down what looked like the hallway of an old church. On fourth trip I bought the book, Caught in the Light.
It's one of those rare experiences where I vividly remember the act of reading the book itself. I read it in one gulp on the trip home. All that I came to recognize as Goddard hallmarks were there. The protagonist is usually a man and usually something of a screw up, at the very least he has something in his past to regret. The past is also a main character, whether actual events like the JFK assassination or the back story of the protagonist. In Goddard's world, the past is never buried. Nor is the answer ever what it seems. Every event has multiple explanations, each more Byzantine than the last. And every detail, no matter how minor, matters. It was that rare experience of not knowing exactly where the story was going and being so engrossed I didn't need to second guess the plot. Every few chapters in Caught in the Light there was an unexpected twist that made sense. The ending was shattering; I literally had to put the book away in the overhead bin to shake off the feeling.
Robert Goddard's latest is usually on prominent display in any Waterstones in the UK. Finding his books even in New York is tougher. I resort to Amazon.co.uk for my annual fix if I can't finagle a business trip to London or Toronto in the fall, when his newest book is usually released. In Pale Battalions is as good a place as any to start, but my favorites are Into the Blue (featuring Goddard's one recurring character, Harry Thaw) for current day setting and Painting the Darkness for a historical setting. I've read both multiple times and they never fail to enthrall.
So, thanks, Stephen King. Thanks for being a passionate reader, thanks for being a compelling author and thanks for giving Robert Goddard some much deserved attention.