The book that made me yawn

I have just given up on a book. I’m not going to tell you what it was because it was provided to me by the publisher and my review policy says I will only write reviews of books provided this way if I finish them.

But every book I read (or half read) teaches me something about myself and this one made me see really clearly what it is that I like (and don’t like) in my thrillers.

The book is marketed as a political thriller. I agree that it is political but found it about as thrilling as making the bed. Because this was a review book I put a little more thought into what I specifically didn’t enjoy in comparison to other similar books.

If a thriller has

  • A twisty, turn-y plot that clips along at a decent pace and offers a pay-off for my investment of time (e.g. family reunited/world saved/justice done)
  • At least a couple of characters who, if not exactly three-dimensional, provide enough humanity that I care whether they live (or die), triumph over adversity (or fail) or right a wrong (or don’t).

it will probably get a rating of 3 (= decent/solid entertaining read) on my personal scale. There is a chance of extra points for humour, above-average excitement levels, deeper than usual exploration of a theme that interests me, a male character who doesn’t view every woman he meets as a potential bed mate or a female character who doesn’t look like a supermodel yet, miraculously, proves to have some value to the world anyway. Keeping the car chases short and detailed descriptions of weaponry to a minimum also scores bonus points.

The book I stopped reading (at page 187 of 380+) didn’t have either of the two basic elements I look for, let alone the features that might have scored extra points.

The plot wasn’t very twisty or turn-y. I don’t want to give away stuff that might identify the book but it essentially was a tale in which a woman was brutally killed and lots of people who bore partial responsibility for the event spent the next 180+ pages trying to assuage their guilt and/or shift the blame by having phone conversations where they denied being responsible to anyone who would listen. Yawn.

What the story didn’t offer me was an incentive to keep reading. There was no chance of a pay-off. The world was not going to be saved from total annihilation. No innocent person was to be kept from the electric chair. No child or puppy dog was to be plucked from the jaws of death. No heinous political scandal was going to be uncovered so that justice and goodness would reign, even for a moment. No ancient code would be broken to reveal a monumental human truth. At best the book offered the opportunity to learn which one of several unlikable, self-absorbed cretins would end up being blamed for the death that started the whole sorry mess.

And then there were the characters.

I could not have cared less about them. The women I can recall were stereotyped male fantasies: we had a victim; a lesbian and a drop-dead gorgeous gal who made all grown men drool. There was also a shrewish, unscrupulous harridan of a journalist but she was over 30 and therefore irrelevant (no prizes for guessing she got killed off before the half-way point). The men were corrupt, stupid and full of vengeance or a somewhat ironic outrage. But not one of them was engaging enough to engender a flicker of interest in seeing if they would live let alone triumph. Nor were any of them evil enough for me to want to watch them squirm and die a painful death. I literally could not possibly have cared less about the characters in a book than I did about the characters in this one.

Happily, this is a pretty rare experience for me. I have a weekend stretching ahead and about 150 unread books to choose from. Joy.

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7 Responses to The book that made me yawn

  1. kathy durkin says:

    I’m dying to know what book this is so as to avoid reading it or even getting it out of the library, and at least wondering if it’s by a famous “thriller” writer.

    Your explanation of what constitutes a good thriller is so well-said. It crystallizes what I think although I’ve never thought this through. I can’t stand gratuitous violence or torture or enjoyment of killing anyone by the hero, male or female, no matter the reason. So I may be a bit more finicky than you are, but your explanation of what you won’t put up with of depictions of women characters is great. I can’t take it when books I otherwise like (written by men) have one gorgeous, perfect woman character whom the single male hero then thinks about throughout the book and eventually has an affair with, but no other woman are in the book as substantial characters. I have found many male authors do this.
    Anyway, thanks for your explanation of a good thriller. I’ll send it to a few friends.
    I hope that you post the good-reads you’ll find out of the 150-book pile.

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  2. Bernadette – I’m sorry this one (whatever it was ) was such a disappointment for you. But I agree completely about thrillers. If the plot doesn’t engage one, the characters are boring, and there’s nothing in the book to care about, then why bother finishing it?

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  3. Kathy I think it’s fair to say this book isn’t by any of the really well known thriller writers. I had never heard of the author before being offered the book for review, though he has (I have since learned) written several books featuring the same protagonist.

    Your point about torture/violence is a good one too – I do tend to avoid those books and to be fair this one didn’t have anything too bad on that score – it was hinted at but not described in any graphic detail.

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  4. Maxine says:

    Sure sounds grim. In addition to these points, with which I agree, I find some novels just so predictable. There is a boilerplate aspect to any crime-fiction novel – and I don’t read just to pass the time but because I want to travel somewhere, or be entertained or feel something. So for me, a novel has to be unpredictable, as I am not going to spend a couple of hours or even more for a tome, reading something where I can be telling the author before he/she is telling me, what is happening.

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  5. kathy durkin says:

    Yes, to all good points here. We should summarize all points and put them together and submit them somewhere, to the International Thriller Writers, perhaps.

    Even with my limits on torture and other gratuitous violence, especially to women, though of anyone, but the sexism and the rape/murder happens to women, although there is gratuitous violence towards many, including men, children and animals–all awful.

    But as my 88-year old uncle (who has been reading only mysteries for years), told me the other night, “I want puzzles, I want a story, I want to think. I don’t want violence, nor sexual violence nor psychotic or serial killers. I want a good detective and a good puzzle, good thinking, good characters.” (He wants a revival of the famous classic “lock-room” mysteries by John Dickson Carr.) I sent him a Peter Lovesey and Ruth Rendell (Inspector Wexford, only; no suspense/violence for him.)
    and am thinking of sending him Scott Turow’s new book. I think he could deal with a Joseph Finder financial mystery, not too much violence, interesting puzzle. Or even a David Rosenfeldt, so he would get a light, humorous book, with a dog.

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