Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
Characters: In a refreshing change, the volatile auburn-haired protagonist Georgie Connelly isn’t a policewoman or a detective. She’s a documentary film-maker who tackles unpleasant subjects — in this case, so-called “gentleman’s clubs” and the sex trafficking alleged to be part of the higher-end varieties.
Georgie is a wonderfully flawed heroine. She’s short-tempered, impatient, with the F-word always a ready part of her vocabulary. She’s fearless to the point of recklessness. The author gifted Georgie with a good heart however, and she inevitably does the right thing, even though sometimes reluctantly.
E.L. Lindley does a nice job of showing all these traits, rather than telling. We see them in direct action, dialogue and through the eyes of other characters.
Here’s James, the tall, handsome (of course), capable retired Marine assigned as Georgie’s bodyguard by her boss:
She couldn’t bear for anybody to be upset with her, which James thought was odd, given that she spent most of her time antagonizing people. He smiled to himself as he realized, she spent the rest of her time apologizing to people.
Georgie is the gem set in a ring of supporting characters, all of whom have similar flaws and longings. That includes the bad guy, Maxim Petrov, who wants nothing so much as respectability and some recognition for what he sees as his hard work in rising from humble origins.
Plot: A documentary about “Gentlemen’s Clubs,” and a teen-aged girl’s disapearance embroil Georgie in an undercover operation against sex trafficker Maxim Petrov ~ one that’s all the more dangerous for not having the full support of law enforcement.
A revenge-bent racist from Georgie’s previous documentary complicates matters, along with Georgie’s own penchant for saying what she thinks, consequences be damned — not the greatest trait for someone under cover.
Setting: Los Angeles. Minimum of description. Most of the action takes place indoors, except when characters are driving to one place or another. There’s a nice bit of description of the Hollywood Hills as Georgie and James are on their way to have dinner with villain Maxim at his luxurious villa.
As James navigated the car around the sharp twists and turns of the Hills, Georgie watched the passing houses which were a testament to affluence. They were all large and ostentatious, screaming to anyone passing by that the owners were wealthy beyond most people’s wildest dreams. The houses were all spread far enough apart to afford seclusion and she struggled to see the numbers, which was probably a ploy to keep unexpected visitors at bay. Finally, they arrived at Petrov’s house. It was a strange mismatch of styles, which resulted in something of an eyesore. Totally at odds with its natural environment, the house none the less flaunted Petrov’s considerable ill gotten gains.
What I thought could’ve been done better: Let me start with setting. First let me say this is strictly subjective. I’m sure there are plenty of people who don’t care that much about setting. But imho, setting is, or should be, or could be as important as any of the main characters. Think of Hound of the Baskervilles without Conan Doyle’s description of the moors.
Los Angeles, by turns seedy and luxurious, garish in hot sunlight, veiled and creepy in morning fog, is the perfect backdrop for “Business as Usual.” I think E.L. missed an opportunity by not capitalizing on that a little more. I also wished she’d tossed in a few L.A. landmarks. It’s not every day readers get a trip to L.A. If you’re taking us there — why not show us around, just a little? Again, purely subjective, and really didn’t impact my enjoyment of this seriously character-driven story.
Objectively, “Business as Usual” has a few grammar issues. This surprised me, since E.L.’s blog of which I’m a big fan — she’s nearly as outspoken in her blog as Georgie — has few if any grammar issues.
Run-on sentences are one of the worst offenders.
She had expected him to be angry and possibly aggressive, there was definitely more to this man than met the eye.
A semi-colon in place of the comma fixes it, and you glide right on by without the bump in the road from the incorrect punctuation. Two sentences is better: She had expected him to be angry and possibly aggressive. There was definitely more to this man than met the eye.
One or two occurrences wouldn’t be worth mentioning. But, alas, there are more. Impact on the story isn’t huge, but any jolt to the reader is certainly not in the author’s best interest. Fairness — there are plenty of other places where E.L. got it right. Likely a matter of proofreading, rather than skill.
Passive voice and wordiness slow down the story a bit here and there: Georgie was suddenly gripped by an idea. Better ~ An idea gripped Georgie. And
Georgie, Danny and Rachel, the intern, were now sitting in her office, a somber mood dominating the proceedings as Georgie explained that the gentlemen’s club project wasn’t looking very likely to go ahead.
Better: Georgie, Danny and Rachel, the intern sat in her office. A somber mood dominated. Georgie explained that the gentlemen’s club project looked unlikely to go ahead.
These are small items in themselves. But over the course of a novel, they can add up to a significant distraction. Georgie, James and “Business as Usual” deserve total attention.
What I thought was good: First, Georgie. Somehow, E.L. has created an attractive protagonist from a buffet of unattractive traits. Her dialogue is priceless:
Sitting up, he spoke in a raspy voice, “Jesus, Georgie, what did you get all dressed up for?”
Georgie felt immediately irritated and snapped, “What do you mean?”
“Well it’s not like it’s a proper date, is it? You don’t need to get all dressed up.”
Georgie glared at James murderously, “Well, I will just go and get changed into my burka, shall I?”
“I just meant …” James stammered.
“Oh just shut up James,” Georgie cut him off, “Just don’t even speak. Has it ever entered your head that women may want to look nice for themselves, to feel confident?”
He flushed, “Yeah, but …” he trailed off weakly before trying again, “Just be careful, Georgie, this is a dangerous man.”
E.L. supports Georgie with a marvelous cast of characters. She paints every character in loving detail, minor to major. The result is sympathy for all of them, frankly, even Petrov the villain, though that might have been unintended. E.L. gives each of her characters their own desires, and since that’s one thing all humans have in common — we all, every one, know what it’s like to want something — it makes sympathy easy.
E.L. also does a nice job with physical character description. Importance of description is a matter of debate among authors. My opinion is that how do reader know what characters look like unless the author shows them? Petrov’s blonde wife is not a major character in the book. Nevertheless:
As Petrov introduced them to his wife, Lisa, Georgie took in the other woman’s sleek, groomed bob. She had clearly once been a very beautiful woman but over use of botox had rendered her face dead and almost bloated looking. Georgie had the fleeting, uncharitable thought that her lips were more Donald Duck than bee sting but she had to admit the woman had a body that would not be out of place in any fashion magazine. She was wearing, what initially Georgie had taken to be a white gown, but could now see was an all in one variation on the jump suit. It was extremely low cut; exposing an impressive cleavage which Georgie assumed came courtesy of a cosmetic surgeon’s office.
The woman was smiling graciously although there was no warmth in her eyes.
There’s not a whole lot of physical action in the story — that’s not its purpose — but when it does occur it’s natural, and E.L. handles it well.
This was it, someone was coming in. The door swung open and, even before Georgie recognized the figure as the man who had brought her here, she stabbed the spike heel into his face with all the strength she could muster. She felt the heel pierce his skin and blood immediately began to trickle down his face. That didn’t stop Georgie from stabbing at the man; she was like a machine, puncturing his face and head as he screamed out in shock and pain.
I found the plot compelling, particularly as it’s based on a real issue. E.L. grows it naturally from seemingly unrelated events, just like life — not a thing is forced. As a result, I found no hint of “formula.” The only thing that kept this from being a page-turner for me is that I read it on my Kindle.
Overall: So who writes a perfect book? Despite a few proofreading errors, E.L.’s first novel in the Georgie Connelly series introduces a truly dynamic heroine. I identified with and rooted for Georgie, while simultaneously thinking “Omigod, Georgie, you didn’t say that! You didn’t do that!”
Business as Usual is terrific fun, with serious undertones and a fantastic cast of characters led by volatile Georgie Connelly, as vivid a character as you’re likely meet in any novel.
Good job, E.!