Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book Review: County Line by Bill Cameron

My initial reaction when I saw that this book was available for free some time ago was excitement. As another reviewer has said, while not familiar with Bill Cameron's work, he is represented by Janet Reid, a respected agent whose blog I read almost every day. I remember when she had featured "County Line" on her blog and being entranced with the storyline. It had to be a quality book, right?

But, skeptic that I am, I wondered what the catch was that this book was being offered for free. It's not the first in a series, which is often given away free for a period of time to entice readers to buy the rest of the series. It's the fourth book. There wasn't a special marketing campaign that I was aware of. It just showed up one day, as a Free Friday selection on Barnes and Noble if my memory is correct.

It turns out I still feel two ways about this book after reading it.

This novel and I got off to a bad start. Skin Kadish, a retired police officer, comes back from a month away and heads to his girlfriend's apartment. He hasn't been able to get in touch with Ruby Jane and is concerned. Deservedly so, it turns out, since there's this old homeless guy lying dead in her bathtub. So what does Kadish do? He stomps all over the house and pokes around, contaminating the crime scene, before dialing 911.

Maybe it's because I recently finished taking a class on police procedure with Lee Lofland, but this just rubbed me the wrong way. I would think a retired police officer would know better. I might even have bought it if Kadish had acknowledged he was doing the wrong thing, but felt driven to know what happened before calling in the authorities. No. He doesn't even think about what he's doing wrong.

The style when we're in Kadish's point of view is choppy. He thinks in phrases, sometimes just words. It takes a while to get used to the clipped cadence. I got used to it.

The middle section of the book is backstory. It's as if Cameron had developed all this interesting background information on Ruby Jane, why she was living in Oregon, what had happened with her family, why the rift between her and her brother Jimmy, and really wanted to use it. He'd resisted in the first three books, probably following the rules (more on that in a bit), but now just had to get all that good stuff out. It probably was more interesting if you'd read the previous books in the series, had more curiosity about Ruby Jane based on what you'd read in the past.

But I found most of this middle section interesting. I like reading about people and how they got the way they are. A lot of readers had trouble with the middle of this book. I had trouble with the beginning and the end.

I've already written about the beginning. My problem with the end was the resolution of whodunnit and why. There was at least one too many twists and I didn't believe it for a minute. It's so difficult to write a satisfactory ending to a mystery. This book didn't have one for me.

I mentioned following the rules up above. One of the "rules" of writing is to use all five senses in your descriptions. The natural tendency is to describe what a character sees. But, in the real world, there are also sounds and smells and touch and taste. A setting seems more alive if the writer includes descriptions of what a character hears and smells than if it's just what he sees. Unfortunately, there were sections of description where it seemed like Cameron was following a checklist as he wrote his sentences. It sounded forced to me.

Mostly what I felt after reading this book was disappointment. I was hoping for a great read and it didn't live up to my expectations.
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