Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book Review: The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark

Life is too short to read a bad book.

I generally like to finish what I start. I tend to fall asleep on movies, but I'll rewind them (do you rewind a DVD?) when I wake up or start them again the next night--or nights--until I see the whole thing. I read most books all the way to the end, even if I find parts of them dragging.

I had to stop reading this book. It was that bad. If it had been submitted to an agent or editor by a new writer rather than Mary Higgins Clark, it would have gotten a form rejection.

The title of the book refers to the years between the flight of Christ and his parents to Egypt to avoid Herod's slaughter of all young Jewish males and the time he began his ministry. Supposedly, according to this novel, Joseph of Arimathea was the one who took Jesus to Egypt. The premise of the story is that before the crucifixion and burial in the tomb of this same Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus wrote a letter thanking him for his kindness. It was stolen from the Vatican in the fifteenth century, but recently found in an ancient church.

Only, it really doesn't matter to the story at all that the maguffin is a letter supposedly written by Christ. It could have been a valuable necklace. Heck, it could have been the Maltese Falcon. Except Dashiell Hammet made a better case for the Templar origins of the Maltese Falcon than Clark makes for the authenticity of this letter.

So, right from the start, I felt like I had been cheated. Instead of being similar to The DaVinci Code with lots of references to the history of the manuscript and the times during which it was written, it's just an excuse for a poorly plotted murder mystery.

Examples of things Mary Higgins Clark did that would get a form rejection:
  • She has the main character describe herself by looking into a mirror. This is so cliche, it's mentioned as a no-no in almost every writing book I've ever read.
  • She uses a classic "As you know, Bob" at least twice in the book. This is another one of the classic beginning writer mistakes. (A list can be found here.) This is a scene where two characters who already know a piece of information talk about it just to inform the reader of a fact. They'd never have this conversation in real life because there'd be no need to talk about it.
"As we both know, most cases of this kind turn out to be family affairs."
  • She "walks the dog." This is when a writer gives a detailed description of a character's actions that is totally unnecessary and slows the story to a crawl.
"She changed from her skirt and jacket into a cotton sweater, slacks, and sandals, and went back downstairs. She went into the kitchen, made a cup of tea, and carried it into the breakfast room. There she settled into one of the comfortable padded chairs and leaned back with a sigh."
  • She switches point of view, usually at the end of a chapter to provide the "hook" for the next chapter. Chapter 12 is entirely from Mariah's point of view... until the last two paragraphs where she suddenly switches to Kathleen's (Mariah's mother) to have her give a clue to the murder.
  • She uses lazy writing to tells the reader extraneous things about minor characters.
"Father Kelly, eight-two years old but remarkably fit..."
  • And she repeats information about her totally bland characters as if the reader was too dimwitted to remember it from the last time she encountered the character. Maybe Ms. Clark was the one having a problem remembering who was who.
 When I got to this sentence today:
"When she finally made it to street level, Alvirah frantically spun her head in all directions."
I knew it was time to quit and move on. The Exorcist image was just too funny. And this was supposed to be a tense scene.

I'm happy I got this book from the library rather than paying for it. It was a major disappointment.
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