What Lies in the Dark: CM Thompson

What Lies in the Dark

Publication Date: February 10, 2015

Source: I received a paperback copy from the author, in exchange for a fair review. You can find a copy in paperback or Kindle on the Amazon Page. I received no money, chocolate, booze, kittens or sexual favours for this review.

Format: Paperback

Length: 206 pages

Summary: One murder can make a town nervous. Two brings fear.
Add three, four and even more, and watch neighbours turn on suspicious neighbours.
Victoria Bullrush – or Bullface, as she is called by fellow police officers – is a stickler for rules. As she tries to maintain a faultless investigation, she can’t ignore the public’s growing anger.
But what lies in the dark is palpable, waiting.
Can anyone stay calm enough to catch the killer? (Source – Amazon Product review.)

Short Version: Thompson writes with an engaging and fresh voice, but issues with the mechanics of writing sank this one for me.

Long Version: I can’t help but like any book that features characters known as “Bullface” and “The Krill.”

Atmosphere and character are easily two of debut novelist CM Thompson’s strengths. She specialises in the little details of everyday life to make her characters seem real – the contents of a victim’s DVD collection, or the tedious realities of investigating the apparent murder of an unidentified corpse. She also has a distinct, dark sense of humour that brings the right amount of levity to some pretty grim scenes:

“Take a deep breath,” Fletcher advises as compassionately as he can. They have been trying for ten minutes now to find out where Fran Lizzie had gone last night and his patience is wearing a little thin.

“She… waaas going to … mughgo hgggr bddoosfid.” The flatmate tries again, choking the folds of her nineteenth fresh tissue.

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

“Meeet … hsffji frhg.”

“She was going to meet who?” Fletcher is met with a fresh wail of tears. This is going to take a while, a long while.

There are two reasons I can’t recommend this one as highly as I wanted to. The first is the punctuation. I know that seems a small thing to sink a book, but there you are. I decided not to ask the author if the non-standard punctuation was a deliberate stylistic choice or not, simply because the majority of readers won’t have that option, either.

There are dozens of run-on sentences in this book, perhaps more than dozens. They’re run-on largely because Thompson uses commas instead of semi-colons and full-stops. Again, this could be a deliberate stylistic choice, but if so, it didn’t work for me – it made the entire book seem breathless, and very difficult to follow. Looking at the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, I’m actually surprised that nobody else has mentioned it yet. I don’t particularly lay this entirely at Thompson’s feet, either. It was well after I graduated – in English Literature, of all things – before I knew how to punctuate my own work. Writing and editing are two separate-but-sorta-related skillsets.

I do, however, wonder that Hookline Books would take this all the way to the paperback publishing stage without having an editor take a peep and make suggestions that would make it flow so much better.

The other issue is the sheer number of characters. This is a slender little paperback of barely 200 pages, with dozens of named characters. Some are named but not shown, and many more are shown for one or two pages before they are killed off, or never mentioned again. I can see what Thompson was trying to do, especially in making the victims into characters and not just random bodies. In the space of such a short book, though, the adage applies: a book about everybody seems to be a book about nobody, especially as the point of view so frequently refocuses from character to character.

In “Bullface”, real name Victoria Bullrush, Thompson has created a truly engaging character. I absolutely love female detectives, and I super-love a female detective who does her job properly without either falling headfirst in lust with every good-looking colleague, victim, suspect or random male (they’re always male) who walks past her, or being an irredeemably aggressive, mean-spirited bitch to everyone because she has a chip on her shoulder.

Bullface is a gem. But so little time is devoted to her that by the end of the book, I was left feeling a little teased, wishing that Thompson had dedicated a lot more time to her character and experiences. “The Krill”, too, is inspired work – the reader isn’t sure whether to regard him as an underestimated psychopath or a misunderstood Boo Radley-type, and the reveal was a genuine surprise and clever, empathetic writing. I could definitely have spent more time with this part of the story, too.

The “whodunit”, if you will, is satisfying and makes narrative sense, even if the climax seemed a little rushed. Thompson’s naturally exuberant style bubbles over in the last two chapters, a real one-on-one dialogue between writer and reader, as though she can’t wait a second longer to reveal her hand.

These drawbacks are issues easily ironed out in the editing process, and with more writing experience. Thompson is, I think, a writer to watch out for. Other reviews at Goodreads and on Amazon are almost entirely positive; if the plot and premise appeals, you may enjoy this one a lot.

Twitter: A Public Statement

I’ve decided to leave Twitter for the time being, and the leave may be permanent.

I’ve long been upset with the culture of Twitter – the cliques, the pile-ons, the sheer number of unbelievable egos running rampant over there (my ‘favourite’ is a DM screaming BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK NOW! when they can’t even do me the courtesy of following back!)

However, when I ask a simple yes/no question (that I can’t research on Google) or, God forbid, ask if someone could please glance over 1300 words of my own writing and tell me generally what they think… crickets and tumbleweed.

I have run afoul of “Mens Rights Activists” who have insulted, abused and harassed me.

I’ve had people demand I read and review their books on my own time, and haven’t even bothered to thank me.

I’ve had complete strangers DM me to demand I retweet their stuff.

I’ve had people DM me to ask for money, who’ve then guilt-tripped me when I’ve honestly replied that I have none.

I’ve run into the Hashtag Gestapo, who’ve become belligerent when I’ve “misused” a hashtag that I think they actually believe they own.

I suspect that most of my “followers” actually have me on Mute. And there’s a very telling problem with Twitter and its culture: it allows you to “follow” people and then provides a button for you to, essentially, unfollow them immediately without their knowing.

Yes, I’m a bit angry over it, but more than anything, I’m just so tired. I’m tired of people taking from me and offering absolutely nothing back. (And just so we’re clear – I don’t ask for much back. Just a short answer when I ask something. Just someone to offer to help me in exactly the same way I try to help others with their writing.)

Are there some great people on Twitter? Absolutely. An incomplete, off-the-top-of-the-head list of examples include: Keira Drake, Ben Willoughby (and his wife, who posts under Willoughby Editing), SA Hunt, Kat Kennedy, CM Thompson, Kris Holt, Paul David Chambers and Alex Bledsoe. These are some of the few people who treat others like they’re humans.

Never say never again, but I’ve deleted the app and have no immediate plans to come back.

As for the books I’ve already accepted and said I’ll review – of course I will. I’m a woman of my word (however long it takes to fulfil that word!). But I’m afraid I won’t be accepting new books from complete strangers anymore, either.

Zer0es – Chuck Wendig

Zer0es

Publication Date: September 1, 2015

Source: I received an ARC from Harper Voyage Australia. You may find a copy in lots of places, including Amazon. I received no money, chocolate, booze, kittens or sexual favours for this review.

Format: Hardback

Length: 432 pages

Summary:

An Anonymous-style rabble rouser, an Arab spring hactivist, a black-hat hacker, an old-school cipherpunk, and an online troll are each offered a choice: go to prison or help protect the United States, putting their brains and skills to work for the government for one year.

But being a white-hat doesn’t always mean you work for the good guys. The would-be cyberspies discover that behind the scenes lurks a sinister NSA program, an artificial intelligence code-named Typhon, that has origins and an evolution both dangerous and disturbing. And if it’s not brought down, will soon be uncontrollable.

Can the hackers escape their federal watchers and confront Typhon and its mysterious creator? And what does the government really want them to do? If they decide to turn the tables, will their own secrets be exposed—and their lives erased like lines of bad code? (Source: Amazon Product Description)

Short Version: It’s a good sign when you enjoy a book so much when it’s completely “against your type”.

Long Version: I have a computer. I’m using it right now, in fact. I can do some pretty professional editing of photos, use several word-processing programs, surf the net, install mods and change code in my Sims 3 game… but that’s about it. I’m not interested in tech, as such.

So it was a genuine surprise to me that I enjoyed this book as much as I did.

The plot is nicely summed up by the summary, and I can’t elaborate much on it. Simply put, it’s the old they’ll kill you because you know too much scenario. People use computers like magic wands are used  in Harry Potter. There’s a sequence in the middle where it feels like characters are being shot every couple of lines, popped off like target cut-out turkeys on a shooting range. There are car chases and stand-offs and bombings and peril, galore.

This is not a kissing book, is what I’m saying.

If that sounds hellishly complicated for a pleasure read, take it from me: you’ll find yourself trusting Wendig. I have no idea if he researched for ten years for this thing, or if he was just making up what hackers can and can’t do, and how. It doesn’t matter. Right or wrong, I believed him. You will, too.

The main drawcard, I felt, was Wendig’s short, snappy prose, and how expertly he uses it to move his story along. If you’re baffled and sometimes bored with long descriptive paragraphs or pages of explanatory backstory, never fear. Wendig is the writer for you. You’ll find yourself whipped along by the pace of his writing, without feeling like he’s skipping anything important:

Ray’s ears ring. He can smell the eggy stink of expended powder. The door pops open. The top of it clips Ray across the forehead. He staggers. Two hard fists piston into his side. A leg hooks around the back of his knee, pulls like a hook – the world flips around, and his tailbone hits asphalt.

As someone who struggles with pacing in action sequences, I am deeply and profoundly jealous.

This book clocks in at over 400 real, dead-tree pages, but it’s a speedy read without being a flimsy one. You’re not tempted to skim.

Another interesting – and admirable – thing about Wendig’s writing is that on the one hand, it deals with what could fairly be called a number of stereotypes: Evil Government Conspiracy (with people occasionally being heinous for the sake of it). Joe Whiteboy America: Nice Guy Edition. The ‘old-school cipherpunk’ mentioned in the book’s summary is your typical old hippy whose few topics of conversation keep returning us to reminding us that he’s old, and a Vietnam vet (referred to as ‘Nam, of course) who doesn’t trust teh evol gubbermint. He’s likened to the Unabomber at least once.

Then there’s the use of the old Internet Trolls Are Fat, Lonely Shut-Ins Who Secretly Crave Love stereotype.

I’ll admit it made for some nerve-racking reading for a bit there. What are we to do with, say, one DeAndre Deleon Mitchell, who thinks he’s a “little Tupac in the making”, lives in a ghetto, says “yo” and “homies” a lot, is terrified of the wrath of his “moms”, and addresses his neighbour as “Miss Livinia”?

Wendig forges past the barriers to good storytelling/characterisation that he sets up for himself, but it’s a close call in places. Hollis Copper, Special Agent, is another African-American character; when DeAndre tries to call him a “traitor to the skin”, he informs him his father was a dentist and he went to Princeton, and to not try that “solidarity shit”.

So there’s that.

Wendig isn’t afraid to make his “heroes” completely unlikable, either, and it’s a refreshing change from books filled with angelic heroes and demonic villains. His best example here is the character of Reagan Stolper.

Reagan is a spectacular, 24/7 bitch. And I don’t mean in a “you go, girl!” kind of way where you giggle when she fires off witty remarks to people, either. I mean, you will want to reach through the pages and slap her. If she was a real person, you probably would. But Reagan is a triumph because she comes across as a real person – some people just ARE jerks. We may hate her, but hate is a strong emotion and Wendig has made us feel it for someone who doesn’t exist.

I wasn’t particularly wild about was Regan’s backstory. I get it – there are reasons she’s an asshole and she has a tragic past, blah blah. I’m probably in the minority of this, but I’m tired of the insistence that bullies are just fragile little souls who want to be accepted and act out when they aren’t.

But overall she’s the shining beacon of characterisation in Zer0es. Much better, I thought, than the burgeoning relationship between two incredibly bland characters, Chance and Aleena.

I try not to post spoilers, and won’t here – suffice it to say that the ending is satisfying, with everything wrapped up neatly. I felt as the story rushed toward its climax that my suspension of disbelief was wobbling a little, but I’m almost certain that’s my being a little shaky with my understanding of the genre.

Give this one a go.