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.

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3 thoughts on “What Lies in the Dark: CM Thompson

  1. A very fair and honest review, thank you. You have raised some very good points and please, if you want to, put it on Goodreads.

    ” 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.” = Tbh I am glad that you didn’t ask that, I wouldn’t have understood what you meant. (It was even worse before the book was edited) Will look at getting more proofers for the next book (Pays in chocolate, kittens and chocolately kittens if you are interested)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Isn’t it, Nigel. Not all authors have the insight and willingness to learn the craft, I believe that CM is a rare one, like yourself, who will improve on already better than good writing. And—can I put in a advert here?—you can do a lot worse than employ Naomi (with more than kittens, please) to proof/edit for you.
    Naomi’s rates are reasonable and I can testify that she gives great concrit (constructive criticism) that you can take or leave. She is excellent at spotting typos, ambiguous sentences, poor use of grammar or language and a multitude of sins that the rest of us wouldn’t notice but know something was amiss. Anyone’s prose reads more fluidly after her treatment.

    I’m not sure that I will agree with Naomi that introducing characters by name only to bump them off in a couple of pages is a bad thing. It happens all the time on popular and well written English series, book and TV. The viewer/reader feels for the character a lot more when they get to ‘know’ them a little. I’ll reserve judgment on that one.
    I look forward to reading your current and future stories on the strength on Naomi’s review, CM. I hope that you found what she says encouraging.

    Liked by 1 person

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