alobear (alobear) wrote,

Brief Reacher, past evils, and gender roles reversed...

I recently listened to No Middle Name, a collection of Jack Reacher stories by Lee Child. I was initially a bit apprehensive about it, because it has a different narrator to the one I'm used to, and Jeff Harding is so synonymous with Reacher in my head, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to listen to a different voice reading it. I needn't have worried because the new narrator provided additional entertainment by giving Reacher a really deep, gravelly voice that made him sound like Batman!

The stories were classic Reacher adventures in short form, and highly enjoyable. Two or three gave some entertaining insight into Reacher's youth, and most of the others ran along similar lines to the novels. The one in which Reacher has his first sexual encounter with a girl, on the night of the blackout in New York, while the Son of Sam stares at him through the car windscreen was rather too ridiculous for words. And it was a shame that there were two stories involving a female War Plans officer selling military secrets, and another two stories where Reacher encountered a heavily pregnant woman on Christmas Eve. However, the novels themselves are fairly repetitive and usually involve Reacher getting into highly unlikely situations, so I suppose this volume of short stories was generally in keeping. Great fun, overall.

I very much enjoyed Felixstowe Book Festival over the weekend, and almost escaped without buying any books. However, the last panel on Sunday had two authors that caught my attention, so I came away with two books after all. And I finished both of them in the five days since the festival.

Humber Boy B by Ruth Dugdall tells the story of Ben, a young man convicted at the age of ten of murdering another ten-year-old, who is released from prison at the age of eighteen and given a new identity. The book has two timelines - Ben's struggles with finding a place in the outside world, and also the day of the murder itself. The story is compelling, the characters well drawn and the gradual reveal of what really happened that day is intriguing. I liked the structure, and there was an interesting range of POV - including Ben's probation officer, the victim's mother, various other characters involved in the case, and Ben himself. I thought it was a bold choice to have his point of view, particularly since he is portrayed quite sympathetically, and I enjoyed his narrated sections the most. I also found the ending unexpected and quite chilling - another bold choice after all the build-up of the preceding story.

However, there were a couple of aspects of the writing that really infuriated me. The narrative tenses were very muddled - so much so that it occasionally switched from past to present tense for a couple of sentences and then back again. If this was deliberate, I can't see what it was meant to achieve - and if it wasn't, it baffles me that the editor didn't catch it. But then, the narrative was also riddled with occasions where a comma was used when it should have been a semi-colon or, more suitably, a full stop. So, my conclusion has to be that neither author nor editor know how to use tense or punctuation properly. In an otherwise excellent book, I always find surface issues like this intensely annoying, and I do feel they should have been picked up and sorted out well before the book hit the shelves.

I had a similar experience with A Suitable Lie by Michael J Malone. The premise is excellent, and the execution generally also good. It tells the story of Andy, a widower with a young child, who meets and marries Anna in a whirlwind romance. Over time, though, she is revealed as unstable and violent, and Andy is subjected to brutal physical and psychological abuse at the hands of his wife. I found the situation and developing story very interesting, and the portrayal of the difficulties faced by a man in this predicament were extremely well laid out.

However, the foreshadowing was very heavy-handed, some of the plot points seemed very contrived, and the central dilemma/message of the book was frequently stated outright with very little subtext. What annoyed me more, though, were the glaring inconsistencies in the back story. At one point, it said Andy was widowed when his son was a toddler, but then it said the child's mother died in childbirth. It also said his son was "planned for, prayed for", despite earlier stating the pregnancy was a total accident as the wife had a heart condition and had been told she should never get pregnant because the strain would be too much for her. And then there were several instances where the narrative had "it's" instead of "its", which is pretty unforgivable in my view. So, again, very sloppy editing. I also found the ending very disappointing. After a very detailed description of how difficult it would be for Andy to successfully win a custody battle for his children (unlikelihood of people believing his story, and mothers generally getting custody), I was really looking forward to seeing how the case would proceed. But the author chose to go for an over-the-top melodramatic ending which, in my view, undermined the importance of the book's message, and failed to show how people in this situation might realistically find a solution.

Hey ho. Both books had a lot to recommend them, and they certainly kept me reading to find out what would happen in the end. But I found the issues with the writing very frustrating, as these authors are acclaimed but are apparently missing some of the basics of punctuation and grammar.
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