Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written two. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of The Naked Room, a mystery-thriller by Diana Hockley.
Characters: This is the story of classical pianist Ally Carpenter, and her harrowing ordeal at the hands of psychotic kidnappers. Diana does a fine job of describing Ally through Ally’s first-person narrative, though physical description beyond red hair about waist-long is wanting. Nevertheless, Diana clearly shows us a vivid picture of a spirited young woman struggling against dire circumstance.
Here, Ally encounters one of her kidnappers:
‘You total bastard!’ I launch myself at him. He tries to push me away; I clamp my teeth onto his finger.
My face explodes.
I’m spread-eagled across the camp stretcher, the metal pipes biting into my back, shocked and blinded by tears. My nose throbs. Warm liquid runs down to my lip, into my mouth and oozes down my throat. The warm coppery taste sends nausea swirling in my stomach. I swipe the back of my hand across my mouth and chin, but it does nothing for the lot I’m forced to swallow. Don’t give him the satisfaction of crying.
Ally is supported by a diverse cast of family, friends, co-workers and police, all desperately searching for her. Diana uses first-person for each of these characters as well, letting us view unfolding events from their multiple perspectives. We also get interesting views of other characters this way, including some physical description.
Here’s lead investigator Detective Senior Sargent Susan Prescott’s first impression of Ally’s alleged boyfriend:
He slouched against the wall, around 195cm of rampant testosterone, with superbly styled, gleaming black hair and designer stubble, enhanced by smooth olive skin. Graceful and model-gorgeous, he was every parent’s nightmare. And who’s going to protect him from me?
‘He’s got more than his fair share of hair,’ muttered follicularly-challenged Evan. I suppressed a smile. But was Briece Mochrie as careless with women’s hearts as his looks might suggest?
The first-person narrative device sheds great clarity on almost all the characters, but Diana draws the line at the kidnappers. For most of the novel, we see them only through Ally’s eyes, a frightening vision.
Plot: When criminals learn a secret about Ally, unknown even to herself, they kidnap her, hoping to cash in. The subsequent investigation reveals the mistakes and secrets of the past, only now coming to their full murderous fruition.
Setting: Most of the action takes place in Brisbane, Australia. While Diana offers enough description to enhance plot and mood — The weather outside looked chilly, the bleakness of the park landscape opposite Pam’s flat enhanced by wind-tossed trees. — she doesn’t provide the travelogue-type description you’d find in, say, an Ian Fleming tale. Brisbane could be any city, for the purposes of The Naked Room.
What really gave me a sense of place was Diana’s liberal use of Australian slang. She didn’t want to be there with us and “chucking a tantie” was a good way of making her exit. (my quotation marks). “Chucking a tantie” is throwing a tantrum, obviously, but does a great job of reminding us where the story is, in colorful fashion.
What I thought could’ve been done better: Not much. Just a few pages in, you realize you’re in the hands of a pro. I would’ve liked touch more physical description of Ally — also, Pam, Jess and other characters.
As I’ve noted with the description of Briece, when Diana wants to, she can and does give marvelous descriptions of characters both major and minor. But I wished there was more of Ally, at least, central as she is.
Also wouldn’t have minded a little travelogue description of the setting. I’m sure Brisbane is familiar, and perhaps ordinary to Diana, but to me, here in Kansas, it’s an exotic location on the other side of the Earth. So, perhaps that’s a minor missed opportunity in this day of global indie publishing.
What I thought was good: I’ll start with the “Aussie-isms.” Chucking a tantie is just one of many. Here are a few of my favorites, set off with my double quotation marks:
My chest heaves for whatever “skerrick” of air I can grasp… (in Kansas, we’d say “a skosh,” long “o.”)
Karen obviously thought I was a bad-tempered “drongo.”
‘Don’t come the “raw prawn” with me, mate.’
These figures of speech give the Australian-based novel some definite authenticity.
One of the reasons these colorful phrases work is that Diana has a good ear for dialogue. Her conversations are crisp and dramatic. They add to characterization as well as plot.
Diana is simply a good writer, using vivid verbs, similies, metaphors and other descriptive devices liberally. She does what a writer is supposed to — helps the reader to know what it’s like to be in the narrative.
Here, Briece and Ally’s father sneak out at night for recon of what they think might be Ally’s location.
A gentle breeze stirred the leaves of the branches like wind chimes, overhanging the pathway; the silky fronds flicked their cheeks. In the distance a dog howled, telling the night air of abandonment. An owl hooted and launched itself from a branch which arched overhead, a great feathered kite gliding on its hunt for prey. Small animals scurried for cover.
The best part of The Naked Room, in my opinion, is Diana’s artful layering of secrets and revelations, seen through the multiple perspectives of many disparate, but well-sketched characters. It’s a complex web, but she manages to keep things simple and clear nevertheless, while maintaining urgency and suspense.
Overall: The Naked Room is a compelling work. As a reader, I simply enjoyed the rich characterization and the many plot surprises. As a fellow writer, I admired Diana’s craftsmanship, including her ability to weave so many perspectives and sub-plots into a coherent, unified story.
I’m not coming a raw prawn with you, mate, when I recommend The Naked Room as a wonderfully entertaining and suspenseful mystery thriller.
Good job, Diana!
And for sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thrillers, check out my own novel American Goddesses on Amazon or Smashwords, and the newly published sequel Rogue Goddesses ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!