Friday, July 04, 2008

No Good, Just Bad and Ugly.

Although I won’t mention names, anyone who has read this “book” will be able to figure out the author. He’s a household name, as famous as I am unknown, so famous that he doesn’t actually write his own books anymore. From what I hear, he meets with a co-author and they develop a story, and then the co-writer does the work. This “book” had a co-author, although I don’t know which is primarily responsible for this monstrosity.

Why did I start it? Well, I read one of famous author’s first novels many, many years ago and it was decent. It didn't make me a fan but I recognized the name later when he became a literary God. I actually picked up a couple of his later books but began to hear from friends who I respected that his later work sucked. This dropped his books down my reading list. Until last night. The lovely Lana brought one of his 2007 releases home, with a sexy cover, and I thought, “his stuff can’t be as bad as my friends are saying. It sells, a lot, and maybe I can learn something from it.”

My friends had understated the suckage. I’ve heard Dan Brown described as a less than stellar writer, but compared with this “book” I’m going to have to start calling Brown Mr. HemingwaySteinbeck. Did I say it was bad? Oh man is it bad.

So why have I kept reading? Because I can’t wait to see what train wreck moment of horribly bad plotting and godawful foreshadowing will be next. I literally can’t believe a professionally published work would be so lame. And let me give you my reasons for saying so. It’ll probably lead some to recognize the work.

First, it starts out like a diary written by a 15 year old girl. A woman puts on her best little black dress and heads downtown to surprise hubby. She finds said hubby arm in arm with a ravishing blond and follows them in her car, like they were “connected by a tow hook,” to a hotel. The woman does not confront her husband, but instead of going out of town the next day as she is supposed to, she stays home and meets hunky, motorcycle rider. These two have apparently carried on a mild flirtation, but no affair.

We pause a moment to mention that hubby is an investment type. We know that both he and the woman have been to law school, where they met, but we don’t know anything about her job. From her interest in clothes and her sweet little “Mini-Cooper” she seems a spoiled housewife with no children to worry about. Anyway, motorcycle guy comes over. She has second thoughts, but then gets on the back of his bike and they race off through the rain to the upscale mansion where the guy is house sitting. They make sweet love, and then the man leaves to get “fresh basil and olive oil” to cook for her.

Meanwhile, hubby has been following the two and knows everything. He gets out of his Toyota Camry with a golf club. (The Camry struck me as odd considering he’s apparently a well off investment fellow who can afford to live in Manhattan and play golf.) As boyfriend comes out of the house, hubby moves to attack, but boyfriend gets the jump and takes away the club.

The scene shifts inside where the woman is at a window watching hubby and boyfriend fight. Hubby wins and throws big hunky guy into the back seat of his car, although the woman can hear the hunk groan and knows he is alive. Ok, now is where it gets really good, or bad. The woman decides her hubby has taken hunk to a hospital (excuse me?) and she drives to the nearest one. For the first time, and this is page 45, we see she has a gun in her purse (say what?). But at the hospital she finds no hubby or boyfriend. She wonders where hubby can have gone and heads to another hospital where she busts into a room holding a crime suspect and a uniformed officer. When the officer looks at her suspiciously, she makes up some lame lie and flees. However, she overhears the policeman’s radio crackle something about a white male victim and an address.

So, she goes to this address and sees numerous NYPD police cars. She thinks about how she better get out of here or she’ll get in trouble, but as she pulls up to the cop directing traffic she suddenly stops and gets out of the car. Then she takes her “badge” out of her purse. Yes, you heard right. On page 51 we find out she is a cop, and on page 52 that she’s been a NYC police officer for seven years, the last year and a half as a detective in homicide. We also learn that the trip she blew off to meet hunk boy was to Quantico for a seminar with the FBI. A few pages later we learn she is also a lawyer as well as a cop. (Rightttt.)

The female police officer/lawyer goes to the tarp where a body lies, looks under, and sees one dead hunk, although she doesn’t notice he’s been shot until another officer (her partner) points it out. We also find out here that boyfriend is a cop too. After that the woman cries hysterically, despite the fact that on the next page we learn she is considered by her chief to be one of his top detectives. And even though she has blown off a trip to FBI headquarters without permission or explanation, the chief immediately assigns her to the case. And this is as far as I’ve gotten.

I can’t even describe all the things wrong with this story. We don’t have the space in the blogosphere. But how can we go fifty pages into a book following a flustered, silly, clothes horse, housewife and suddenly find out that she’s a cop? A homicide detective no less? Suddenly, we are also expected to believe that an investment banker hubby could beat a younger, bigger, stronger man who is a police officer and armed with a golf club in hand to hand combat. (Although I’m quite sure that in this lamely plotted piece of crap we’ll find that hubby is really a spy or assassin or some equally ridiculous thing.)

And the possibility of believing that this woman is a homicide detective is less than believing that the pyramids were erected by penis creatures from Tau Ceti, or that the Taleran series will outsell Dean Koontz’s entire backlist next year. We know she can’t tail a suspect worth a damn. But hubby can tail her without her having a clue. She can’t recognize a bullet wound until it’s pointed out to her. She works in homicide but her first, second, and third thoughts are that hubby is taking beaten up hunk to a hospital. And she’s crying hysterically at a murder scene.

Worst of all, because it’s cheating, we are deliberately mislead repeatedly by the author. The woman’s reaction to uniformed police officers make us think that she’s simply a housewife when in reality all she ever had to do from the start is show her badge. The author played false with the reader. We’re inside the woman’s head for page after page and the author didn’t respect the reader enough to give us a genuine character with genuine thoughts.



Heather said...

it's sad to know there are so many great writers out there who may never be published - yet this drivel gets more fanfare than it's worth. I feel for the trees that died for this crap to be printed. Thanks for the warning too :)

Randy Johnson said...

I know exactly who you're talking about. And yes, that book was godawful.
Ever since he turned into a cottage industry. maybe factory would be a better word, he's gone off my list. He once was a good writer. The early books in his big series are good thrillers. But even that one, which he ostensibly writes himself, has been heading downhill fast.
I still read those, but I get them from the library. All those with a second name on them are a tipoff to be avoided.

Sam said...

I just picked up a book and tossed it in the trash after a mere three pages.
Three pages of dreadful writing. A book from Berkley Press. I wonder who the editor was, because it was so badly written I thought maybe the author was not a native English speaker.

evildm said...

Dude, Whats the name?
you are going off on the guy but don't give a name? whats up with that?
It's like a news tease: "Deadly toxic gas killing children. Is it in your neighborhood? Find out tonight at 11."

Tell me before I accidentally buy his book.
oh God, please don't say it's James Rollins. I just bought his new book yesterday...

Charles Gramlich said...

H.E., exactly how I feel.

Randy, I have a couple left in his big series but don't know if I even feel like reading those now. Maybe I'll give one a try. Some day.

Sam, what a waste of energy on everyone's part eh?

Evil DM, it's not Rollins. I just read his Amazonia and it was pretty good. One give away to the book I'm talking about is that it has two authors listed on the cover, famous guy at top, lesser known at bottom.

Travis Cody said...

Just a simple question. Why does crap like this get published, while well crafted stories are so often returned un-opened?

Sidney said...

Wow. And sadly there are many people who probably follow this writer (brand) who'd argue with you. Do you find people who read only brand writers have less discernment?

I had a guess as to the writer you were talking about tho I've not read the book. A little Googling confirmed my suspicions.

I'm hoping the book I bought today, a mystery called The Color of Blood by Declan Hughes is a little better.

Travis Erwin said...

I don't recognize this plot, but I think I know the author. Does he have really short chapters?

BernardL said...

Charles, that was an inspired and detailed review. He-who-shall-not-be-named would be smart to hire you as a critique partner. Wow, page 51 to find out the woman is a cop. Bet we'd never have been able to get a query letter read with that opening. :)

Sphinx Ink said...

But...but...but, Charles! No doubt the writer(s) were simply using the old unreliable-narrator technique! Don't you know world-class writing when you read it? Whatsamatta wichya??

Major suckage, indeed. But it hasn't been a total waste of time to read it--you derived two benefits: lots of laughs (of disbelief and horror, as well as humor) and material for a good blog entry!

Re the famous member of the writing team, my guess is that his first name starts with "J" and his last name starts with "P" and ends with"N."

Am I right, Charles?

SzélsőFa said...

I thought this would end up creating some guessing from your readers, Charles:))
I have absolutely no idea who the writer is, but I think I'm luckynot to have read this or any of his latest works.

There is some mistrust in the readers' mental capacity, or eagerness to follow and decipher clues...and so on...the question is why do you buy books like this?


Steve Malley said...

The wicked prosper while good men want. So it has always been, here and there, from time to time.

One of those anonymous editors recently blogged about how these train wrecks happen. It comes down to, if an editor is brave (or stupid) enough to turn down this stinking pile of multimillion dollar rubbish, Famous Author will take it down the street.

The guys down the street will make tons of money, editor's own marketing department will put out a contract on the poor doomed fool, who will be easy to find, as she will be sitting at home a lot. Or possibly telemarketing.

That a once-fine author can reach the point of being able to phone it in is no surprise. What regular folks continue to get out of these later books, long after the point where said author barely glances at 'his own' work, that's a much better question...

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

In the library (& book biz, I've worked 'em both), this guy was written off long ago for the hack he is. Unfortunately, we have to provide the books for people because he still remains massively popular.

Now you think people would have to think when they read.

Our bad. Some readers are as passive as tv viewers.

I've heard many a sad story about how this guy throws fits when he gets bumped by another author for the top spot on the NYT bestseller list. No joke.

With each new book he puts out (every other month or so) he gives interviews saying how this one is the best he ever wrote.

Sheeesh! How many forests do we have to lose to this guy before folks wise up. I did enjoy reading your summary. It's all the time I'll ever invest in the bum.


Bernita said...

I think I know who you mean.

laughingwolf said...

i dunno who it is, but may... have never read a word by him, nor will i

thx for the heads up!

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute, Charles, if you keep reading who knows what kind of surprises you might find. Maybe there's an alien conspiracy or some kind of Rembrandt Code or who knows what. You may have given up too soon.

Well, at least your post was entertaining and fun to read.

Shauna Roberts said...

Boy, does that plot stink! I assume the prose is even worse?

Charles Gramlich said...

Travis, that's the 64,000 dollar question. I wish I had an intelligent answer.

Sidney, I'm sure his fans would argue, and perhaps slam me left and right, which is why I'm not going to say his name where they can google and find me. I haven't read anything by Hughes. He couldn't be worse really, though.

Travis Erwin, the chapters are no more than 3 pages.

Bernardl, the first 10 pages or so read much more as if it should have been published as an old fashioned romance.

Sphinx Ink, I shall neither confirm nor deny on the worldwide web for fear of what flames might come my way. However, I'll tell you for sure when next our writing group meets.

Szelsofa, I didn't buy it. It was donated to a book sale and was going to end up being thrown away. No money was laid out for this one.

Steve, I agree, the main question of interest is why they continue to sell so much and what are readers, apparently quite a few readers, getting out of them?

Don at Issa's Hut, thanks for the inside info. Steve made a similar point. I'd kind of like to ask some of those fans but I'm afraid I'd be lynched.

Bernita, just imagine me. I'm being exposed to him first hand.

Laughingwolf, if you read some of his earlier work you might not find it so bad. It's the later stuff that is truly awful.

Jack, I am still soldiering on actually. Although it's getting to be hard going.

Shauna, the prose is actually better than the plot. It's very simplistic but servicable. It's the story embedded in the prose that is just pathetic.

Erik Donald France said...

Aye Carumba!

Must avoid at all costs.

Will avoid at all costs, even at the library.

"I ain't got time for that now."

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

coughcoughjamespattersonachooo! Sorry. I'm allergic to bad writing. Or maybe its the penis creatures from Tau Ceti. And this coming from the guy who told Charles to read THE BREEZE HORROR.

Greg said...

thanks for the warning, Charles. I'll be sure and never buy a new book from this um, anonymous author. I read a Dean Koontz book a couple years ago that was co-authored, and while the plot was a little contrived, the book wasn't all bad.

Charles Gramlich said...

Erik, indeed.

Wayne, yes, the Penis Creatures. You know, the Washington monument is actually one of their space vessels. It crashed at Roswell.

Greg, I think Dean Koontz would have a bit more pride than be involved with a fiasco like this one.

SQT said...

Well, I'm going to throw out that I think James Patterson is a name to be avoided at all costs. His early books were entertaining, if not Shakespeare. But all this co-authored crap? All I can say is, the horror.

I know you're not going to confirm anything. But I think it's good that people know they should avoid Patterson.

laughingwolf said...

his stuff never was my cuppa, less so now....

kinda like neil diamond, ok to start, then a big yawn

Mary Witzl said...

I'm pretty sure that I enjoyed reading your review of this a lot more than I would have enjoyed reading the book. Aren't awful books fun sometimes? Really, I laughed myself right through every ho-hum cliche and dopey bit of inconsistency you described.

Actually, I'm rather cheered. I just went over my current WIP and found a lot of inconsistencies and fixed them. Then I found some more. Then I sent it all off yet again -- and got my first rejection letter of no doubt many. And yet my plot sounds leagues better than this.

Really, once you've become an established name and start selling, it seems you can get away with all sorts of sins. There is a famous author whose first books were absolutely riveting. My husband and I devoured her first two books, eagerly bought the third -- and found it less than riveting -- then got the fourth from a friend, and didn't much like it. Her successive books have been hugely disappointing, but we no longer buy them. I don't even check them out at the library.

If readers voted with their pocketbooks, the writer would be forced to work harder on quality and the publisher would not aid and abet greed by insisting on so many books being written in a short period of time.

L.A. Mitchell said...

I can almost smell how foul this plot is. Thanks for taking one for the team so we didn't have to :)

Mary Witzl said...

Charles, if you get a chance, check out the NYT's review of James Frey's latest attempt. I giggled my way through this and thought of you. It almost makes the one you described look good:

Charles Gramlich said...

SQT, speaking of James Patterson, I checked out the 266 reviews at Amazon for a certain book of his called "The Quickie," and they were almost all either 1 star or 5 stars. I really found it amazing that some people loved the book very much and a few even called it the best book they'd ever read. (I wonder if they were paid to do that.)

Laughingwolf, I hate the time I lost reading it, though it wasn't that much time.

Mary Witzl, yes, I had fun writing the review and I'm getting a whole article for the Illuminata newsletter so it was probably worth it to subject myself to it. But yes, this should make a lot of us feel better about our WIPs. We couldn't possible be that bad. I'm going to go read the Frey review now.

I. A., Mitchell. Somebody had to fall on the grenade I suppose. ;) Thanks for stopping by.

Danette Haworth said...

In junior high, I wrote a novel in which it snowed in the summer. I just wanted a snowstorm right then.

laughingwolf said...

understood, charles... time wasted is the worst kind :(

Lisa said...

I'm reading a collection of essays right now called THE BRAINDEAD MEGAPHONE, by George Saunders. The first essay is really geared toward the "news" media but it is a brilliant description of how people en masse come to accept the crap that's thrown at them. I think there is some kind of corollary at work with popular fiction. If I'm not a discerning reader, but I do like some light reading for entertainment and I mistakenly assume that anything that's a best seller is "good", (and my guess is that most people in this country believe that) and I further believe that if I recognize an author's name, he/she must be good (I believe this to be true also), then I'll buy the book and I may even trick my brain into believing I'm not reading total nonsense. I think because most people (this excludes people here who obviously have passion for books and writing) are so over tasked and burned out that watching a cable news program or picking up a mass market paperback is a form of sedation. There are certainly people who demand more, but clearly not enough to impact the majority of the pap being fed to us.

X. Dell said...

Your review intrigued me so much that I decided to look up customer reviews of it from It wasn't until the third page where I found a review similar to yours:

"With this said, [*** *******] was one of the worst thriller novels I have ever read. The character development is lacking and the plot is totally implausible. Every aspect of the story is unbelievable...."

I found only one negative review before that, but the reviewer's reasons for panning the novel were completely different--namely, that it was too predictable (?).

Other than that, you have a lot of reviews that laud the novel for the precise reasons you condemn it. A typical one:

"I will not go into any more of the plot in order to keep the surprises intact, but trust me, when it's revealed what [******] does for a living, who her one night stand is, and who the murderer is you will be floored and propelled to keep reading."

Part of this, I believe, is simply the effect of branding, which is an aspect of standardization. People travelling around will stop at a McDonalds before stopping at a diner, because they know just about what to expect. That the template of the author(s) is basically the same, and the production method the same, then all one needs to crank out another bestseller is to change the surface details a little, what Adorno called 'pseudo-individulization.'

That this novel is a hit, and that it has such glowing reviews doesn't surprise me in the least. The fact that it can only hope to escape unoriginality by misleading readers for many pages (and still might not succeed in this endeavor) doesn't surprise me either.

Charles Gramlich said...

Danette, and yet already your plot is more plausible than this one. LOL.

Laughingwolf, indeed.

Lisa, I know. The subject of why people seem to enjoy such pablum is endlessly fascinating. It just really makes me wonder.

X-Dell, I went and read a bunch of the reviews last night myself and saw the ones you mentioned. If you go several pages in you'll find more negative ones but there really seemed to be a dichotomy between 5 stars (I loved it) and 1 star (it sucked.) I was particularly amazed at the person who was "happy" that they didn't find out the woman was a cop until 50 pages in.

Lana Gramlich said...

Drop the book & back away slowly... *LOL*

ivan said...

Oh Henry.
Or is it Hey Rube?

Ah well. Myself, I never could plot.

Barbara Martin said...

Great post and extremely funny. It is a shame an author, despite being a "name" in the literary arena would be so self-centered to allow writing like this to be published.

Steve Malley probably hit the nail on the head about the literary agent. Despite the dollars to be made where is peoples' integrity?

cs harris said...

Wow, I don't think I've ever known you to go nuts over a bad book like this! It sounds unbelievable.

SQT said...

I just went and read some reviews for "The Quickie" and they're amazing.

I'm skeptical about Amazon reviews though. I think the "top" reviewers are just trying to get a deal like Harriet Klausner (who may or may not be the #1 reviewer on Amazon still..). She gives everything 4-5 stars and gets review books up the wazoo. I got into a debate once with an editor at one of the sci-fi publishing houses and she was all for reviewers like Klausner. It's not about authenticity, it's about selling books.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lana, already dropped.

Ivan, I'm sure you could plot better than this.

Barbara Martin, thanks. You and Steve are probably right.

Candice, I'll give you the full scoop on Monday when the group meets.

SQT, yeah, I noticed many very positive reviews for the book. But there were quite a few negative ones as well. I wonder about the folks writing the positive ones.

the walking man said...

issa of issa's untidy hut said it all...Name Recognition sells books, so no matter the clap trap thrown onto the page, if there is a possibility of making a few bucks, the house will publish...BAH!

That, Charles is why I won't submit anymore, it is not a profitable exercise for writers.

Get a reputation at something, anything, Kato Caitlin even, then write a book. You have a better chance at having it sell than all of the writers who visit you combined.

writtenwyrdd said...

Sounds like a really bad book, Charles. Sad that a good author gets ruined by success. I think a certain vampire-slaying, zombie-raising book series has gone that way, too, although the author might redeem herself some day.

Heff said...

Wow. I feel like I read a crappy book just by reading that post, lol !

Charles Gramlich said...

Mark, I've made the comment quite a few times that if I wanted to be a writer I should have made a famous reputation at "anything" else. Sad. Very sad.

Writtenwyrd, I read one of the later books in that series last year and I believe you are correct.

Heff, there was much, much more bad stuff, I'm afraid.

J. L. Krueger said...


Not my favorite genre anyway, but who knows what I might be tempted to read when locked away in the safe house! No longer tempted for certain...I'll trust your judgement on this one.

The character reactions as you described are simply unbelievable.

Lana's advice to you was excellent!

Drizel said...

I think I would rather chew my arm off than read stuff like this...
Have a great week Charles:)

PS:And your not infamous, your famous to all of us:)

X. Dell said...

To borrow from Dorothy Parker, I don't think this book should be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with emphatic force.

chris said...

Being a WEB.Griffin geek, I have read a couple of Dan Browns earlier books, he lost me a long time ago. I don't even take the time to look at what he produces.

Josephine Damian said...

Travis: Easy. Branding. Reach a level of success like Grisham, King and (hell-o!) JAMES PATTERSON.

Did you know JP was repped by Donald Maass? (Or at least was at some point.)

Menkin said it best: No one ever went broke underestimating the stupidity of the American public.

These days newbies get to publish drek because of "platform" - prove that you can sucker enough non-readers into buying your book, and you will be published.

Charles, luv the concept of "why I kept reading (this) trashy book."

I just scheduled a "Why I Stopped" Reading (this) Book" post for my hiatus return wherein I'll totally trash this summer's most popular debut book - THE STORY OF ____ _____. I have much to say about why this awful book is a huge success, and how a certain mamouth online bookseller is manipulating readers.

Danette Haworth said...

Danette, and yet already your plot is more plausible than this one. LOL.


Cath said...

Charles you are sooo right. I feel your frustration and may I say, possibly anger? because I feel it too. The start of the book feels familiar - I may have started it too. I'm not sure. I couldn't name it because it was that insignificant I forgot it and it's author.

What you have done though is given me a boost. I am not on the level of some writers I admire, including yourself, but I can do better than that. I started a story some 3 years ago and put it away when it got over complex and I lost heart.

I've expressed an interest in returning to it and you have just helped fuel that a bit more. Thanks.

Cheating the reader is wrong. It's not big and it's not clever (to coin a phrase.)

JR's Thumbprints said...

Can you tell me who his agent is? I need one. A really, really good one.

But seriously, it seems as if D.B. made shit up as he advanced the plot. Not good. Not good at all.

Rachel V. Olivier said...

Yeah, that does sound like it really sucks.

Charles Gramlich said...

J. L. Krueger, Lana always gives good advice. I don't always take it.

Etain, thanks. I appreciate the thoughts.

X-Dell, if I thought it wouldn't kill the plants I'd use it for fertilizer.

Chris, all I read was "The Da Vinci Code." I didn't think it was very good and don't plan to read any of his other books, but it truly was a cut above this particular book.

Josephine, there is a huge amount of manipulation going on out there. Man, I get so sick of that "Platform" thing. YOu're absolutely right about that.

Crazycath, just the fact that you care about the reader puts you head and shoulders above the dreck like this.

Danette, ;)

JR, perhaps the Maas agency. Some one said. I'm not sure.

Rachel, very much so.

Merisi said...

Oh drats,
I knew immediately whom you were referring too. I bought PB versions of his X series for a relative, who read it to distract herself while working on her thesis, when all she wanted was a diversion. ;-)

I have read only one book by this author (from the library!), still written by the author himself (presumably), something with "Faith" in the title. Made me realise why I generally avoid mystery series (so precious little time to read for pleasure anyway).

I hope you have recovered by now from this tough piece of work! :-)