Book reviews, LGBT Books, Murder mystery

Book Review | Instinct (Murder Games)

instinct book review

by Howard Roughan and James Patterson — This book was the literary equivalent of being told to enjoy the view while travelling on the Shinkansen — a pointless and nausea inducing effort.

“Dr. Dylan Reinhart wrote the book on criminal behavior. Literally–he’s a renowned, bestselling Ivy League expert on the subject. When a copy of his book turns up at a gruesome murder scene–along with a threatening message from the killer–it looks like someone has been taking notes.

Elizabeth Needham is the headstrong and brilliant NYPD Detective in charge of the case who recruits Dylan to help investigate another souvenir left at the scene–a playing card. Another murder, another card–and now Dylan suspects that the cards aren’t a signature, they’re a deadly hint–pointing directly toward the next victim.

As tabloid headlines about the killer known as “The Dealer” scream from newstands, New York City descends into panic. With the cops at a loss, it’s up to Dylan to hunt down a serial killer unlike any the city has ever seen. Only someone with Dylan’s expertise can hope to go inside the mind of a criminal and convince The Dealer to lay down his cards. But after thinking like a criminal–could Dylan become one?”

If perhaps you are under the impression that the “nausea” has anything to do with grisly murders and gore a-plenty, I’m sorry do disappoint. I mean literal motion-sickness nausea, because this book doesn’t know when to take a breath. It’s so fast paced that absolutely no part of the plot has any chance to leave a lasting impression. The characters are like socks in a washing machine, powerless to do anything against the whirlwind that rinses and spins them (gently, though, because nothing of consequence ever happens to a main character in this kind of pulpy crime fiction).

I picked up this book by the graces of the Goodreads’ algorithm that analysed my twin interests in both murder mysteries and LGBT books, and spit out this: Instinct by James Patterson and Howard Roughan (Murder Games, in previous editions). Credit where credit is due, the book belongs to both of those categories, it just isn’t any good.

The protagonist, Dylan Reinhart is a wisecracking criminal behaviour expert. Riveting. The put upon detective who has to deal with said wisecracks  is Elizabeth Needham who is “headstrong and brilliant” and all too happy to play second fiddle in her own investigation, for no discernible reason. They are both terribly bland, I finished this book yesterday and I remember almost nothing about either of them.

Dylan has a husband, we find out his name through the most pointless, self-indulgent, “ain’t we funny”, scene I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading. Dylan’s husband’s name is Tracy, and we find that out through the contrived actions of a disgruntled adoption agency representative, being confronted with the supposedly female name on her case file and the man in front of her. It was insufferable to read. It’s a lucky thing you can’t dislocate eyes, because I was rolling mine so hard it was a real concern at points. Ironically, the thing I liked best about this book was the representation. Cheesy scene aside — which I’m willing to attribute to a generational gap, older people might call it funny, anyone under 30 will call it cringy — I thought it was fine. There wasn’t much detail about Dylan and Tracy’s life, but they seemed believable enough. Tracy was a little thin at times, but all characters besides Dylan and Elizabeth (and even her…) were less developed.

By far my biggest gripe with this book was the pacing. Every chapter was at best 3 pages long, and each chapter ended either in a cliffhanger (the insufferable mid-dialogue kind, in which the conversation continues in the next chapter with absolutely no change of setting or tone) or with a witty one-liner that was reminiscent of early 00’s cartoons reminding you to tune in next week.

Most of the pertinent information Dylan and Elizabeth discover is the kind they have a hunch on, or some witness says something that lights the proverbial light bulb over their heads. What this means is that the reader has very little hope of figuring the mystery for themselves, because there aren’t any clues in the actual text, as a consequence the characters seem a lot more clever than they are. The ending does tie things up in a bow and call back to previous events, which makes it marginally more satisfying than the entire book up until then.

I finished this book before having time to digest half the things that were happening. It’s completely unremarkable and I’m fairly sure I’ll have forgotten everything about it by next week. I recommend it to everyone who is about to embark on a long-haul flight, because the break-neck pace is sure to make it go by faster.

Rating: 2 stars
Authors: Howard Roughan and James Patterson
Publisher:  Little, Brown and Company

Book reviews, Murder mystery

Book Review | The seven deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

the seven deaths of evelyn hardcastle review

I wanted to love this book. I was ready to love it. I just ended up liking it.

               “At a gala party thrown by her parents, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed–again. She’s been murdered hundreds of times, and each day, Aiden Bishop is too late to save her. Doomed to repeat the same day over and over, Aiden’s only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend–but nothing and no one are quite what they seem.Deeply atmospheric and ingeniously plotted, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a highly original debut that will appeal to fans of Kate Atkinson and Agatha Christie.”

The premise was fresh and original, and murder mystery is one of my favourite genres, I was promised a fiendishly complicated plot of twists and turns whose out of order narrative was sure to make it hard for me to follow along. Instead I got an interesting plot-device I felt wasn’t used to its full potential, a plot that thought itself much cleverer than it was, and a nondescript protagonist whose personality and inner workings I couldn’t put in words to earn my supper. His motivation ends up being explained to us by a character who I assume is supposed to be mysterious and compelling but instead just feels like a manifestation of the author leading us along by the hand through the story, much like he does for the protagonist.

In short I was promised Memento, and got Clue.

Luckily for this book, I don’t hate Clue, or my rating of 3 stars would be much lower. It was amusing to follow along and piece together the main character’s day split in eight, or eight days split in one — however you want to look at it. The pacing was fast and kept the energy high, except for a bit of sagging in the middle. The clues as to what was going on were relevant, and with a few exceptions, didn’t fall on the main character’s lap due to a well-timed plot contrivance. There was one character, as I mentioned before, who I felt was one huge plot-contrivance, but fortunately the protagonist does manage to find some things on his own, or with the help of secondary characters — who I have mixed opinions of. And isn’t that the theme of this whole review?

The body-hoping, for lack of a better term, was well-developed and I liked the aspect of each host having his own personality that was at times at odds with the main character’s and even antagonistic to his ambitions. Where I felt like it didn’t live up to the promise was in the lack of a female host, as that would add to the complexities of inhabiting another’s body, and in my opinion, add something to the protagonist’s character development that was wholly necessary. As the novelty wore off, however, I found myself less and less interested in that aspect of the book, which is a shame since it was one of the things that made me pick it up in the first place.

Now as to the mystery of who murdered the titular Evelyn Hardcastle. It was predictable not in the sense that I knew who did it, or at least I didn’t from the start, but that I felt the rug pull coming a mile away, I didn’t know exactly what rug was going to be pulled, or in what manner, but it was pretty obvious that not all was what it seemed. In that way the reveal was a bit anti-climatic for me, and there were two other plot-twists that I was annoyingly aware of and could predict from the moment they were introduced. I’m more annoyed about one of them than the other, as I believe the author perhaps didn’t intend for it to be a plot-twist in itself just a lead in to the climax. Maybe. Hopefully.

Concerning the secondary characters, they weren’t all that memorable, I have trouble recalling most names, with the exception of Anna, who while central to the plot, was completely one-dimensional. Her defining personality trait was “be helpful to Aiden”. When the events that brought both Aiden and Anna (minor nitpick: it also annoyed me that their names started with the same letter) to the “party”, I was in total disbelief of who Anna was previous to the start of the book, but not in a good way, as I’m sure the author intended it to be, but in a way that stretched the limits of my suspension of disbelief – as nothing in her previous actions offered even the slightest clue. And no Aiden, she off-offhandedly suggesting that you kill Evelyn yourselves to solve her murder, once, doesn’t count.

I have nothing to say for the villain other than his identity has to do with the plot-twist that annoyed me. I know a red herring when I see one. And when a murder mystery tells me to look one way, I’m well aware I should look the other, except usually in a better book than this, there are various other directions to look at, instead of just one.

In conclusion, writing this review has made me realise that my 3 star rating can be completely credited to the fact that I did want to keep reading, and find out what happened in the end, I wasn’t all that excited about said ending but it is what it is. It kept me engaged while I was reading, even with all the issues I had with it, and I at no point considered not finishing it, a sure sign that a book at least fulfils its basic promise of entertaining me. This book managed that. Sometimes it entertained me for the wrong reasons. But so do the news, and I keep watching them.

Rating: 3 stars
Author: Stuart Turton
Publisher: Raven Books