Negative Book Review

Over at The Kill Zone today, Joe Moore talked about identifying and knowing your audience. He says don’t chose a group of people that you’re writing for, choose one individual. Then cater everything you write to that one person. That’s sound advice, in my book, and it got me thinking about who my target audience is. Then my brain did that wonderful rabbit trail thing where one thought leads to another, and pretty soon I’m nowhere near the original topic. I was thinking, “Who was this particular author thinking of when she wrote this stinker of a suspense book?”

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Let me backtrack a minute. I’m not naming this particular author because normally I love her books and every author is entitled to one stinker. So I don’t want to malign her name or her mediocre book. Instead, I want to focus on why I didn’t like the book, and maybe tie it all up with “who was this author’s target audience.” 
 
There were some good things in the book. I genuinely liked the lead characters. There were four of them. Two were on one side of the mission, and the other two had the backside of the mission. They were male/female pairs, and there was some minor hints of romance, but mostly they were working partnerships of equals who treated each other as fully competent and capable. I liked that. The characters were interesting, flawed, and sympathetic. Their mission was easy and made sense: bring in the bad guy.
 
Then everything started to fall apart. The bad guy was fairly incomprehensible. I had a hard time figuring out why he was doing what he was doing, what was happening to him, and what made him so dangerous. He wasn’t a typical sociopath–in fact, he was just some poor schmuck that was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught up in something evil. Unfortunately, the author didn’t explain that bit well enough and there were far too many unanswered story questions that kept me thinking, “huh?” It was wrapped up at the end of the book, but still not fully explained, and I finished the book thinking there should have been MORE. 
 
That feeling of not-quite-getting-it stuck with me for the last two-thirds of the book. One of the female leads had something funky going on, and the more the author tried to explain it, the more lost I got. There were lots of technical terms tossed around in the hopes of explaining what the problem was, but they just made the mess more muddied. I never did figure out what was going on with the female FBI agent. At the end of the book, the character explained what had happened to her (via dialogue with her partner, who was there the whole time so it was kind of cheesy), and I STILL didn’t understand what it was. It was almost like watching a nuclear physicist and a philosopher debate something complex while an audience of junior high school students looked on, scratching their heads, and trying not to be rude and walk out. Frustrating. The worst part is that the author spent some serious page-time trying to explain this stuff, and it started to feel like a waste of ink. I got bored with it when I couldn’t understand it, yet it kept going.
 
The other thing I didn’t care for about the book was the LACK of suspense. I want to feel genuine anxiety for the protagonist of a suspense book. His/her/their lives must be at stake, and I must feel that heart-pounding, page-turning, will-they-make-it excitement. It wasn’t there. Not even a little bit. The bad guy shot at one of the good guys and wounded him in the leg. Then later the good guy’s partner gets shot in the shoulder. Throughout the entire siege, they were both mildly afraid that the bad guy would get them. But I didn’t feel it. Not once did I think they were in serious danger. Maybe it’s because I know that good always wins, although sometimes the good guy comes out wounded or slightly maimed… but I never got to the point in the book where I was seriously worried about their safety. It was a major let-down.
 
There were numerous references to characters/plot lines that happened in previous books (this is a series), and the author nicely foot-noted which previous book they happened in. Since I’ve read all the others, it was nice to see friendly characters from previous books. And that made me think this author has a specific audience in mind: someone who has read all her previous books, and would therefore “get” some of the metaphysical/philosophical stuff that came up in this newest book. Maybe I’m a bit dense, but I’ve read all the previous books and this one still didn’t make a ton of sense. It makes me wonder if the author expected her readers to remember every little detail from every book. Or maybe she expected them to be ultra-familiar with her unique world, and I just didn’t remember enough. Or maybe she thought she’d done a darn good job of explaining everything, but since she’s too close to it, it wasn’t quite enough and she wasn’t in the position to realize it. Or maybe I’m unique in “not getting it” in this book. I’m not going to dwell on these issues–I’m chalking this one up to a dud, and when her next book comes out, I’ll read it and hope she’s back on track. Unfortunately, the book ended with the “it’s not over” speech from the boss–whatever evil was working it’s way through this book will definitely be in the next two (she likes to write books in threes). I’m hoping the author takes better care in the upcoming books.
 
Has this ever happened to you, where an author you love/admire puts out a book you didn’t care for? It makes me kind of nervous: will one (or more) of my books be thought of as “a stinker?” What will my target audience think? Makes me wonder…
 
-Sonja
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