Reviews and updates from Amber Foxx, author of the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series
This book strikes me as having been published prematurely. I found it frustrating to pay for a promising book and end up feeling like a beta reader of a work in progress. I think of a book starting out with five stars when I decide to buy it, and keeping a certain number as I read it.
This one kept two because it has a clever plot idea, and the writer shows some innate ability. There are scenes where the horror works. The frightening imagery in these episodes is masterful. The spider details are excellent, too, though I did not find them disturbing. The protagonist Clive had so many cobwebs in his brain already—playing solitaire on his office computer and keeping up with celebrity gossip rather than doing his job—the arrival of a spider in his head was a good twist, and I enjoyed the foray into Chester’s point of view, when she visits Derek. The author showed his potential when he got inside the spider’s head.
Overall, though, the book reads like a satire on clumsy writing. If it was meant to be one, the joke wore out fast. I had a hard time telling whether Jason Parent was over-writing on purpose in an attempt at irony and whether he wrote awkwardly by accident. Either way, I didn’t enjoy it. It’s like singing off-key: funny for one line, but the longer it goes on the more irritating it gets.
Phrases like “indelicate sensitivities” and “stood sedentary” made me slam on my reading brakes. Misused words (leaches for leeches; droned out for drowned out; snuggly for snugly; awe for the “aw” sound of pity; adverse to change instead of averse to change, etc.) added to the impression of a book that had not been professionally edited. Introducing Clive’s coworker Felix, the author writes: “His job seemed as resolute as his commitment to his politically incorrect ways.” Resolute does not describe a job but a person’s determination to hold onto it. Maybe he meant: He hung onto his job and his political incorrectness with equal tenacity.
The quality of the dialog is uneven. Example: Reilly, the detective says she needs to do something “… before nightfall and the return of scavenging coyotes.” I think a person would normally say, “… before the coyotes come back at night.” Maybe the unrealistic speech is meant to be funny, but when the previous dialog has been normal, things like this look like mistakes rather than an intentional cartoon effect. The conversation in this book is about fifty-fifty. I found the most of attempts at humorous dialog to be strained digressions that slowed the book down. There were a few exceptions, such as Morgan and Clive’s bowling scene, where the banter was funny and natural. It came from their friendship and it enhanced plot and character. The dialog with Clive and Chester is wordy and gets too expository toward the end.
The overuse of modifiers looks like an attempt at a comic effect at times, but at other times looks like an error. A man annoyed at his alarm clock swats it off. A strong verb like that doesn’t need an adverb. Nonetheless, Parent writes, “He hurriedly swatted it off.” Detailed descriptions of the horror elements were effective. Detail when describing simple actions slowed the story down. The following illustrates this use of excess detail in the wrong places.
In this scene Morgan and Clive have been threatened (I will not say how, to avoid spoilers) and Clive says, “Get help.” Parent describes Morgan’s reaction: “Her anxiety had clouded her thinking, made her helpless, but Clive’s two words sent her running with determination and purpose, running by Kevin, down the apartment stairs and into the street. The combination of excitement and physical exertion shortened her breath.” We don’t need to be told twice that she was running, or that she had determination and purpose, or the reason she’s out of breath, or that “get help” is two words. All of those are obvious. Revision: Clive’s words cut through her paralysis and sent her running downstairs into the street. Breathless, she …”
In the supposedly high tension scene that follows Morgan runs to her “one-year-old BMW.” If that detail matters, it belongs much earlier in the book. At this point, the reader just needs to see her run “to her car,” unless this is another case of attempted wit. She unlocks the car and “forages” for her phone with “clumsy haste” and finds it. <i>Forage</i> is a great verb, but then he bogs it down with “clumsy haste.” He even gives the brand name and color of the phone and a digression on how Clive teased her about it. When she gets hold of that pink phone, Parent writes: “‘Finally!’ she shouted with proud accomplishment.” Finally! by itself would say enough, unless, of course, he also meant that clunker to be amusing.
A fight scene on the next page has a whole paragraph in passive tense, deflating the energy and action. Parent’s writing takes the reader outside the events, not deeper into them. If his goal was to make the reader stand back and disengage from the story, he succeeded, but I don’t see why he would want to do that.
There is a fine art to selecting the kind of tormenting detail to put in a stressful scene, whether comic or terrifying. Everything that raises tension and involves the reader with the character’s feelings belongs. Anything that distracts from that experience doesn’t. A suspenseful example is King’s description of Junior’s feet descending the stairs into the jail in Under the Dome. The reader sees what the prisoner sees, and feels the dread. A great comic example is the bus ride at the end of Lucky Jim, where the reader suffers every excruciating delay with Jim as he creeps towards the girl he loves when he wants to rush.
Less than half-way into What Hides Within, the first scene with the unnamed criminal gave away what was probably supposed to be a surprise turn near the end. I don’t find withholding of information this way to be a subtle device.
The formatting in the Nook edition had an annoying space between each paragraph .
Opinions on books differ, so I’ve tried to support my opinion so readers can decide if the things that bothered me would bother them. If the style entertains you, and the humor is your kind of humor, maybe you’ll enjoy this. I wish Parent had decided to focus more on horror, though, and not tried so hard to be funny. Obvious effort at humor kills it, for me. Pared down and professionally edited, with occasional realistic humor integrated into the story-telling, this could have been a good book. I think Parent has the capacity to write one.