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Friday, December 12, 2014


3 stars out of 5

For many years I've been a professional journalist, writer and copy editor, albeit rarely of fiction. I also read a lot of books, mostly legal and medical thrillers and police procedurals. Nonfiction and fiction are two different animals, but there's one thread of commonality that connects all genres: Errors in form and/or function are not acceptable to me, no matter whether the work is by an established, successful author or a self-published first novel. 

Most of us are aware of introductory clauses (such as prepositional, participle and infinitive), even if we don't know what to call them, to-wit:

"Feeling a bit whimsical, he blew a kiss to the woman dressed up like the Tooth Fairy."

"Concerned about hurting his lady friend's feelings, he hesitated before answering her question about whether the dress made her look chubby."

I'll be the first to say such clauses can be useful. Until, that is, they're not.

Starting with the first page of this novel, the clauses came one after another, starting just about every other sentence. By the time I got to the end of Chapter 4, they were coming so fast that my inner voice reached Shakespeare's Macduff proportions, screaming, "Hold enough!" 

And hold enough I almost did; but I can count on the fingers of one hand with three fingers left over the number of times I failed to stick with a book to the end, so I sucked it in and kept going. Thereafter, I noticed a few other errors that, IMHO, should have been caught before publication, such as "reluctance" instead of "reluctant" and "site" instead of "sight." And when I read that a character removed his tongue from his "pallet," I nearly choked.

Okay: All that's off my chest - mentioned primarily because this appears to be the first in a series, and it is my fervent hope that, when the next one is published, the editing will be much improved. As for the story, it's engaging enough that a follow-up (or two, or more) could well be in order.

Here's the lowdown: The setting is Harrisburg, Pa., where a new group of investigators called the Major Crimes Task Force has been pulled together to help solve crimes - hampered somewhat by having to serve two masters including the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the state governor. Almost immediately, they're faced with the probability of a serial killer who targets young boys (as a big fan of TV's "Criminal Minds," serial killers always get my attention - so we're off to a good start).

Chapters shift from the ongoing investigation to glimpses into the mind of the killer to learn why he goes on his rampages in the dark of night and the significance of the yellow blanket with which he covers his young victims. As team members get to know one another better, their get-down-to-business activities are interspersed with kidding around (some of the latter antics reminded me more of junior high than the behavior of grown-up professionals, but then that's probably a guy thing). And as the book description says, team members are a diverse group of seasoned investigators with unique skills as well as "physical and psychological scars from years of battling criminals, comforting victims and living life," so it makes sense that they'd want to let off some silly steam once in a while.

Although I might argue that anyone as severely mentally ill as this killer really doesn't have a "choice," it's clear he must be caught before other young lives are lost - no matter what the cost to the psyche's of team members. Revealing how that happens - or even if it happens, of course, would spoil things for other readers. 

A Choice of Darkness by Jon Kurtz (Amazon Digital Services Inc., December 2013); 384 pp.

A postscript: I don't know whether others will have the same experience, but I will warn that on two occasions (at Chapters 5 and 8), when I clicked on the bookmark icon on my Kindle Fire at those points, at least three pages suddenly went blank including the first page of the chapters. I'm not sure how many pages were lost - and I was able to pick up on what was happening fairly well without the missing pages - but it may be a concern that needs attention.

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