Publication Year: 2016
Tags: Avoid-At-All-Cost, Feminism v3.0, Thriller
Canine Search-And-Rescue (SAR) units find bodies, ghosts, and a serial killer in a haunted wood, thanks to persistent neo-feminists risking their lives and careers against male liars and evildoers. And that’s more description than this book deserves.
Jen Blood’s author bio on Goodreads boasts being a “professional editor and publishing consultant” with a Masters in Creative Writing, along with honors and awards from places I’ve never heard of. This book needs an editor who understands punctuation, grammar, and story flow, and in my experience, “publishing consultant” is a euphemism for someone skilled in obfuscative over-promotion. If one needs a Masters degree to write, one is already hobbled by a need to “write to order” rather than pursuing the zest and gusto needed to create fully and well. I do not seek to impugn the author herself; I merely observe that, given the quality of this first book, her biographical credits do not surprise me.
This book falls prey to several amateurish mistakes — ones that I too have made in my day, so the only claim to superiority that I make is that I have learned from them. SAR Agent Jamie Flint’s history, as well as that of her rescue dog Phantom, is repeated all too often, as if we’d forgotten about them while pushing through the prose. Her paranormal abilities, which she seems to have passed along to her son Bear, are “rarely mentioned for reason, reason, reason,” and this litany is retold to us multiple times. There is so much back-story to the main characters that, as more than one Goodreads reviewer has observed, it feels as if there should have been another book before this one. While that back-story(ies) would not have made up a full book, the ham-fisted insertion of too much information derails one’s attention, often with little genuine benefit to the story.
The lead character, Jamie, tells her story in first person. Due to the need to tell other parts of the story from another character’s point of view, the author shifts to third person for those sections — a technique that can be effective, but a few words to help indicate a change of scene would not go amiss. When in Jamie’s head, we are constantly subjected to overbearing reminders of just how great an expert SAR agent she is; not only does she spend paragraphs tediously explaining and re-explaining the minutia of the process (and, no doubt, allowing the author to show off how hard she’s worked to research her topic), oh my goodness, isn’t it wonderful that a woman can do this? Her presumably misogynistic mentor (and, after his death, benefactor) was impressed by this woman who can handle herself so well in the field. Oh, the number of times that we are reminded that the women in the story are so adept and innately great at their jobs, even though a few get killed. Some reviewers think that this is because they didn’t listen to the men, and therefore the author is showing that women are too weak to do anything for themselves. It is more likely that the author is showing that the men are holding them back not because the female character is suggesting something rash and potentially ill-fated, but because the men are trying to control them. The reader is never allowed to forget for a moment that the women are always better, willing to risk more, ready to put their lives on the line because the men are too overprotective. This message of Feminism v3.0 is pounded into our heads on virtually every page. The words “overdone” and “tedious” spring to mind, much less the more Freudian analysis.
The plot itself is derivative of any number of spirits-in-the-woods stories, but let us remember the truth that every story in the world has already been told; what we keep reading for is the new twist, the interesting characters, the variations that make us eager to see just what type of ghosts we’re going to find this time, what cause, what solution. The story here is only adequate, and the narrator is such a mental hemorrhoid that she overshadows even the more interesting characters like Bear, whose psychic gifts are more powerful and less an embarrassment to him, compared to his mother. Other than an overbearing narrator and her far more interesting son, the other characters in the book are flat and merely collections of traits designed to be antagonistic to the main character.
If the story were brought to me for proper editing, I would eschew the occasional non-word (I failed to bookmark a particularly egregious example on my tablet, found while I was using the gym’s treadmill). I would get rid of the wretched, repeated use of the “try and” construction. I would not that “K-9” is a designation, not a descriptor; the word is “canine,” and it belongs in several locations throughout the book. I would temper the repeated reflection, help put those back-story memories into conversation somehow. I would make suggestions to help temper the mad plot-swings. I would nod and say that it was a decent attempt at a first novel, suggest better use of Bear’s insights, make the motivations of all characters more reasonable, brought out in actions rather than overusing the narrator’s asides. Another few rounds of polishing, and it might become an amateur’s decent attempt at crashing a niche market for the feminist-adventure version of Young Adult fiction. As it stands, however, it grieves me to imagine that this unfortunate collection of word has been given so much attention. To paraphrase Will Rogers, “If the Good Lord can see His way clear to blessing writing like this, then the rest of us ought to get it without even asking.” [The original quote was said in re: The 1928 Republican Convention.]
Being my mentor’s charge, however, I will continue to follow his writing advice: “Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.” I will keep asking, with all my ability. Seems to me the better bet.