Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A Book Rant--Part Two

Book Two

This book is a bestselling thriller. (No, not the Da Vinci Code.) It's the author's first book, so he gets some leeway for lack of experience. I like the premise and the storyline. I do want to know how it all turns out. The plot has some interesting twists. But I keep stopping and wondering if I want to know badly enough to follow these characters to the end. I'm not sure I care enough about them.

The main characters used to be married to each other. It's obvious that the author is going to get them back together by the end of the book. I think I'd be rooting for that to happen if he'd switched their genders. The woman is written like a man and the man is both so feminine and so wimpy I want to smack him. I wonder if the author was trying to avoid writing cliches or stereotypes. Or if someone told him it would sell better if he made the lead mc a woman and the backup a man, so he switched their names and pronouns, but didn't change their reactions, backgrounds, etc. At one point, one of the villains tries to seduce the female lead and I was rooting for him to win her, even though he wants to kill her not wed her.

These people have two kids. I wonder if the author is a parent because these parents dismiss their responsibilities to the kids way too easily. I don't think that the mom's grieving for her father and being impulsive is enough motivation for her to up and leave her kids. The kids are grieving for their beloved grandfather. The parents don't seem to care. First the woman runs off chasing after the McGuffin. Then the guy thinks the woman is in danger and runs off after her. We aren't told what arrangements he makes to care for the kids when he takes off and she doesn't ask when she sees him. All the grandparents are dead and no other relatives are mentioned that you could assume the kids were left with. They're in Europe and never call whoever is looking after the children to see if they're OK. They never even talk about the kids. I don't buy that. I don't know of any good parent, and these are portrayed as being good parents, who could ignore the fact they have children the way these characters do, which brings me to what I see as being the biggest problem with the book--stakes and character motivation.

If the stakes were high enough, I'd believe the characters behavior and care about them more. At the end of the first part, the woman and the man debate whether she should go chase the McGuffin. She wants to, he says she shouldn't. Her only motivation is that her dead father was looking for it. Her dead father specifically says she should let it go. She goes because she WANTS to, not because she HAS to. She leaves her kids and chases this McGuffin more on a whim than because there's a real reason for her, and no one else, to take this chase on. Her ex follows her because he's learned she's in danger. That's high stakes. The mother of his children, who he's still in love with, may be killed if someone doesn't stop the killer. Fast forward to the end of the second part. It ends like the first part--the characters debating whether to keep chasing the McGuffin or go home. It's clear that if they go home, they'll be out of danger and everything will be fine. The woman, stating she's loving having an adventure, insists she's going to keep going and he decides to stay with her. I'm OK with his motives. He has a strong goal, with high stakes--keep the mother of his children alive and try to win her back. She comes across as TSTL*.

The villains are more interesting than the heroes. I find myself rooting for them, while hating them at the same time. They're evil. They kill, with no regrets, just to make sure the people won't tell anyone else what they know. But they have motives for their actions that make sense. The stakes for them are high because they stand to get what they want and what they want makes sense for who they are.

This doesn't read like a thriller. There's not enough ongoing, escalating danger to the main characters. For example, one of the villains fails to kill the woman. When he discovers she's still alive, he shrugs and decides she's not a threat anymore, so he's going to leave her alone. The villains are more of a direct threat to each other. But they're TSTL in one way--they kill too quickly and easily. They're supposed to be extremely smart and clever, but all they do to solve problems is kill people. One note solutions like that get boring after a while. Oh, another dead person. Yawn.

I read the rest of the book and was as unimpressed with the end as with the first parts of the book. After they find the McGuffin, the rest of the book is supposed to surprise you with the explanation. The explanation is mixed in with danger to the characters, but the mc becomes a damsel in distress by that time. She gets rescued and does kill one of the bad guys, but only after a silly bit where she sees the gun and doesn't do anything, emphasizing the impression of her being TSTL. It was an attempt to make it suspensful, but it didn't work.

I think the main problem with the characters is that they seem to have been invented to serve the plot. They were moved around like chess pieces. The events in the book could have easily happened with a totally different cast. I never got the impression that what happened was because these particular people did these particular things and the events were the consequences of those actions. Nor did it seem like these, and only these, characters could be in this story.

But I finished the book. Why would I finish a book that had so many problems? Because the premise and the main story question were so intriguing. This could have been a spectacular book. I hope this guy keeps pushing himself to write better, but this was a NYT bestseller. Do you think anyone's going to tell him he could be better? I doubt it. They're going to want more of the same, to try to keep those megasales going. His next book is out and it, too, has an intriguing premise. But I think I'll pass on it.

*For those unfamiliar with the term: TSTL=Too Stupid To Live. It comes from the Romance genre--the heroine who grabs a candle and goes up to the attic to explore the strange noise when she knows there's a killer after her.