There is much to be learned by someone trying to write a novel in James Reasoner's Dust Devils. There is also much to be enjoyed for someone looking for a good story. Sandra Ruttan pointed out its assets for a reader many weeks ago, so let me point out what it's taught me as would-be novelist.
1. Reasoner tells his tale with almost no back story. By the end of the book, you know everything you need to know about the protagonist without dragging the story back to the past.
2. The book sweeps along at a good clip, but unlike a lot of books I pick up, it doesn't feel like breakneck pacing was the primary concern. There's time for reflection, time to look around at the Texas scenery and ambiance. I know people love to claim, they couldn't put the book down, but to me, that's not always a good attribute. Reasoner gets it exactly right in Dust Devils. There were no wasted scenes. No dead ends.
3. This is a quiet story despite the action. The pacing and mood suit its setting; only the occasional action scene breaks the moodiness. And when it does, it feels organic, inevitable.
4. The dialog feels effortless; the characters act accordingly; there were the right number of characters for a shortish book. These are all issues to struggle with. And here you can see how well it works when it's done masterfully.
5. Here's how to create a femme fatale that's believable. She is credible, scary, sexy. I would have admired this book under any circumstances, but at this point in time, it really was the perfect lesson on how to write a noirish crime story well.
Read it even if you don't need any lessons.