The Girl on the Train; also, chapter titles

Everyone seems to love The Girl on the Train.  It was a number one best seller; it’s being made into a movie; it’s on Obama’s summer vacation reading list.  So fine.  I just read it on my summer vacation.

The first thing I noticed is that the author used the technique I have settled on for my new novel: the point-of-view character is identified at the beginning of each chapter (along with the date and time of day).  I have become a little dubious about this technique since my
writing group reviewed my latest chapters, and Jeff pointed out that I hadn’t correctly established my point-of-view character in one of them.  “But I don’t need to,” I said.  “The point-of-view character is identified in the chapter title.”

“Oh,” Jeff replied.  “I hadn’t noticed that.”

So maybe I need to remove the “Chapter” designation; maybe I need to make the name of the character bigger.  That’s what Paula Hawkins does.  It’s probably all that stands between me and a deal for a major motion picture.

Anyway, her novel is well written and cleverly constructed, but I ended up being pretty disappointed.  Here are the problems I had with it (moderate spoiler alert):

  • I figured out who the murderer was pretty early on.  I kept expecting there would be a further twist, but the twist never came.
  • The critical event in the plot is witnessed by one of the narrators, but she doesn’t remember what happened because she was having an alcoholic blackout.  Or perhaps it didn’t happen.  Or perhaps she remembered it incorrectly.  But finally she remembers it, and that solves the mystery.  Meh.
  • One of the other narrators solves the mystery because the murderer unaccountably holds onto a key piece of evidence against him.  Phooey.
  • The climax is straight out of a Lifetime movie.  Woman finally realizes that the man she loved is really a lying cheating murdering psychopath.  The man comes after her.  Can she summon up the moxie to defeat him?  Ugh.

But really, her chapter titles are pretty good.

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How come no one told me about Lee Child?

He’s pretty good!  Which is refreshing, after my experience with Dan Brown.

My friend Doug lent me One Shot. (I’m mistrustful of Doug’s taste in non-Shakespearean Elizabethan drama, but that’s another post.)  The style was clean and serviceable, the characters were sufficiently well developed for a thriller, and the plot was bullet-proof, if you were willing to get into the spirit of the thing.

Jack Reacher is a bit of a stretch.  I expected not to like the superhuman above-the-law vigilante aspect of the character; I prefer heroes with flaws, or at least foibles.  But there was just enough of a sense of humor about the character that I could put up with him.

Here’s what I didn’t like:

  • Amnesia was a major plot device.  Child handled it much better than Dan Brown did, but it’s still a cheap cop-out.
  • The plot seemed a bit too focused on letting Jack Reacher hurt or kill as many bad guys as possible without legal repercussions.  I could do without that, but it seems to be Reacher’s thing.
  • Ultimately, the stakes were too low for all the mayhem.  Spoiler alert: the whole story revolves around kickbacks for paving contracts in a medium-sized Midwestern city. Again, the mystery behind this was handled well, but when it was finally revealed, my attitude was: “People are getting killed left and right for this?”

Still, on the basis of this one novel I’d put Lee Child on a par with Michael Connelly.  Which means I’d happily read or listen to more of his books, without having terrifically high expectations.

“I could kill you now, Detective Bosch. But that would be too easy.”

I’ve been listening to The Black Box, a Harry Bosch novel by Michael Connelly.  It turns out he uses an “I could kill you now, Mr. Bond” setup for his climax.  I expected more of Mr. Connelly, whose strong suit is his plotting.  Harry Bosch has been taken prisoner by the killer he has been tracking down.  He is at the killer’s mercy.  The killer points a gun at him.  It’s all over for Bosch!  But what does the killer do?  Instead of killing Harry, he handcuffs him to a wooden post in a barn and leaves him to go kill some other folks.  Why?  Connelly has Bosch come up with a reason eventually, but boy, is it lame.

So Bosch is left by himself, and guess what?  Spoiler alert!!  It turns out the Bosch is an expert at unlocking handcuffs with random stuff!  He gets hold of a watch from a corpse the killer left at his feet and uses the winding pin to escape from the cuffs.  (The watch itself has been brought to our attention with a standard Chekhov’s gun maneuver — why, look at that interesting watch that this guy who is obviously going to get killed is wearing!)

This sort of thing is fine in The Heat and James Bond movies, where plausibility just doesn’t matter.  But it was just too over-the-top for this sort of novel.  Connelly can do better.

Summit will now cost you money

I told you to download Summit from Amazon when it was free, but you didn’t listen to me.  You never listen to me.  Now you have to pay $2.84 for it.  Why $2.84?  I don’t know.  But it’s worth it!  Probably worth even $2.99, now that I think about it.

The purpose of making the book free was to generate some nice reviews, and I got some!  Here’s a sampling:

This is a well written, well -rounded, exciting book. I loved it and will be looking for all books by Mr Richard Bowker. I do NOT give five stars often or lightly, but I am impressed Summit. So if you like thrillers, this is a great one to read. And Mr Bowker, if you ever need a beta reader, I would be thrilled to do it.

And:

The author has a way of bringing you right into the story; the characters are believable and flawed. The sprinkle of romance is fun and the Mr Bowker’s knowledge of classical music and the ability to identify the problems of a classical music prodigy are amazing.
Above all the plot twists and turns were extremely suspenseful.
I also appreciated the author not painting the Russians as all evil and U.S. as all good.
I wish Bill Sullivan had a better ending, but such is life. More importantly, Fulton and Valentina (more than) survive.
A great read, thanks !

I wish Sullivan had a better ending, too!  And:

Richard Bowker manages to give lots of credibility to the subject of psychics. What is there not to agree in the end? Psychics do exist, even if their lives are depicted more in the dark forces type of books than in a thriller.
Deep thoughtful take on American and Russian ideals, the perceptions and beliefs ingrained in their nationals to infuse a patriotic love, which makes us explore our own psyche and rattles perhaps our own confidence in our righteousness. The same political corruption and power greed exists at all levels, in all countries- and is perfectly delineated in the pages of this book. It is difficult not to love the heroes, and the insertion of a love story makes the read even more enjoyable for female readership. I did enjoy this book till the (perfect) end.

And, as a reminder,here’s the exciting new cover:

summit

“Summit” is #1 free spy thriller on Amazon

It would be better if people were, you know, actually paying for it.  But I’ll take what I can get!

Here’s the most recent customer review:

Richard Bowker manages to give lots of credibility to the subject of psychics. What is there not to agree in the end? Psychics do exist, even if their lives are depicted more in the dark forces type of books than in a thriller.
Deep thoughtful take on American and Russian ideals, the perceptions and beliefs ingrained in their nationals to infuse a patriotic love, which makes us explore our own psyche and rattles perhaps our own confidence in our righteousness. The same political corruption and power greed exists at all levels, in all countries- and is perfectly delineated in the pages of this book. It is difficult not to love the heroes, and the insertion of a love story makes the read even more enjoyable for female readership. I did enjoy this book till the (perfect) end.