John Dunning Essay - Critical Essays


John Dunning has attention deficit disorder, which was undiagnosed for most of his life. This condition probably explains why he did not finish high school and why his writing process is slow. Dunning has said that it sometimes takes him ten hours to get two hours of work done. Despite his condition, he has written best-selling novels and a number of nonfiction works.

For most of his writing career, Dunning wrote on a manual typewriter, saying the personal computer was a left-brained tool trying to do a right-brain job. In many ways, he is a throwback to earlier times when authors such as James M. Cain (Dunning’s favorite mystery writer), Cornell Woolrich, and Raymond Chandler wrote tight plots with terse, fast, hard-hitting dialogue. Dunning’s hero, Cliff Janeway, however, has more modern sensibilities than those authors’ lonely detectives in the knight-errant tradition. For example, he can relate to a woman without necessarily having to rough her up.

The Janeway series appeals to the intellect without being overly erudite and is suited for the reader who enjoys fast-paced action and solid dialogue and can appreciate the insights that Dunning offers based on his own experiences. To read an author is to share his passions: Dunning’s novels about rare-book collecting, journalism, old-time radio, and horse racing are all reflections of his own world and experiences. The art of the novel lies in the ability to present one’s world in an honest, compelling, dynamic way that connects with the reader’s own intellect.


In Deadline, Dunning’s third mystery novel, Dalton Walker is a reporter covering a circus-tent fire in which an eight-year-old girl has died. The fire story runs parallel to another assignment, an interview with dancer Diana Yoder, who was raised in the Amish faith. These two seemingly different stories intertwine. Except for the hero Walker, the characters, especially some of the women, are not as cleverly drawn as those in the Janeway series. Despite this flaw, this is a tightly written novel with plenty of Dunning’s typically well-researched background. Dunning has stated an intent to write a sequel to Deadline, which was written in less than two months and sold to the first publisher to see it.

Booked to Die

The first...

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