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Im not a likely candidate to read a Jodi Picoult book. I have to admit that Ive always been a bit of a snob when it comes to the books that my Mom read.She was a big fan of mysteries, but nothing classic (no Christie or Doyle), very little new or challenging (no Steinhauer or Rankin), and practically nothing genuinely pulpy (no Leonard or Chandler). She always preferred the uber-popular stuff and was a massive fan of James Patterson (and his peers), having to go out and buy the books from his mystery-mill in hardcover they day they were released.And thats where the snobbery comes in. I tried a couple Patterson books early on, but his work is basically crap, so when my Mom discovered Jodi Picoult, adding Picoult to her list of favourite authors and telling me I should read her, I mocked my Moms taste and avoided Picoult with an internal snicker. But then my Mom died last month and my Dad asked me to go through her bookshelves and take anything I wanted. And there was Jodi Picoult. Now this probably wouldnt have been enough to make me grab a stack of my Moms Jodi Picoult books, but two other moments pushed me over the edge. First, I bought my Mom Jodi Picoults Wonder Woman: Love Murder for Christmas. I found it during a random book store browse and thought it would be a good way to introduce my Mom to graphic novels; second, I read a recent article by Stephen King that was talking about the merits of some of our most popular novelists, praising both Rowling and Picoult while damning Stephanie Meyer (raise a cheer!) and Patterson. I am not a big fan of Kings fiction, but I do enjoy his essays on popular culture and literature, so his opinions are close enough to mine to take as advice.So I added the Jodi Picoult books grudgingly to my haul and put Salem Falls -- a random selection -- straight onto my to-read soon stack.I finished Salem Falls last night and I can say that I was completely surprised by how good it actually was and disappointed by how good it wasnt. Picoult is a good writer. She has serious chops. She balances multiple characters with the speed and grace of an excellent screen writer (Im not talking about screen hacks here), giving us vivid scenes that tell the tale quickly and move on to the next important scene with no meaningless lingering. Her dialogue, though occasionally cliche, is believable and serves to make every character an individual. And her use of flashback to tell us bits and pieces about her people is superb. I was sold on Salem Falls by page ten, and she held my attention right to the end. I didnt expect that. Even with Stephen Kings praise, I was ready to scoff at Picoults work, but she really impressed me. Until Salem Falls shifted from an interesting story about interesting people to a boring Law and Order style courtroom drama.And it didnt have to do that. By the third act, Picoult gave up the creativity that was making Salem Falls a compelling read and took the conventional way out, which is a shame because the unconventional would have been so much better and realistic. You see, Picoult gave us all the information we needed to know the ending (which was a good one) early in her novel. A good reader, paying close attention, knows exactly whats going on. The problem is that her characters, smart people all (and brilliant in some cases), have the same information and never see whats happening. So we find ourselves waiting to see how the truth is going to come out and save Jack St. Bride, how its going to make the trial meaningless, how its going to save peoples spirits and the bodies of some young women, but we are let down because, apparently, the smart folks in Salem Falls arent as brilliant as the folks reading about them.Usually I would be a fan of people not being saved because in real life, more often than not, that is the case. People arent saved. People go on in pain. People live with abuse that doesnt end. People hurt. And when authors are brave enough to let that happen I am generally full of praise. I would have been in this case too, had Picoult employed dramatic irony. But she didnt. There was no pertinent information we had that was withheld from the characters. They had the same access to information that we did, and they were oblivious. And I was left disappointed. I wanted more from Picoult, and she promised more in the first two acts only to fail us in the third; still, she did enough to win me as a fan (albeit it a mildly skeptical one). I will definitely read her again. I just hope she doesnt continue to exceed my expectations only to dash my hopes. There is only so much of that I can take.

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