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.
That said, here is my honest opinion of View From My Soul, a paranormal mystery/thriller by Jill Pritchett which I finished reading yesterday morning.
Characters: Sarah Seere, wealthy single psychic who lives in a large, potentially spooky house on a West Virginia mountain is protagonist and narrator. Jill gives us a touch of description of her main character — mid-50s, dyed blonde hair — but most of what Jill shares about Sarah comes through what Sarah says and does.
Sarah is a wonderful, accessible character. She loves her horse Spoofer and her dog Scout. She plays well with others, including best friend Dody Davidson also a member of the “country-club” set in their well-to-do mountain community:
She still had a fabulous figure, as should anyone who spent three hours a day with a private trainer in her own private gym. And she knew just how to accentuate it with her little black Tory Burch dress that she wore like a uniform to all of Seth’s blowouts— the only thing she changed each year were her jacket and accessories. This year she had on a little persimmon bolero cardigan and a boldly patterned scarf. She looked at me again. Her surgeon really was an artist; yet she preferred to keep that distinctive gap between her front teeth. Still— it didn’t distract from hair the color of a sunset and gray feline eyes. In short, Dody was the same drop-dead-gorgeous gal that she was in college. Only better.
Another well-developed character ~ old Jacob Henry, groom and caretaker on Sarah’s estate:
Hair once gray had finally turned white and facial lines that had been wrinkles years ago were now deep craters etching a lifetime of memories in Jacob’s ebony skin. But his amber eyes were still as sharp and critical as they were when he used to watch me ride my pony.
As I read Jacob, I saw and heard actor Morgan Freeman portraying him.
Jill does an excellent job with each of her characters, including the bad guy and even her minor characters. Even her horse, Spoofer; and dog Scout are written actively, colorfully and precisely.
Plot: After two young girls are murdered on Sarah’s mountain, the ghost of one of the victims appears to Sarah. The ghost asks Sarah to catch the killer. What Sarah doesn’t know, despite her psychic abilities, is that the killer, and the killer’s origins lie closer to her than she realizes, and poses greater danger to her than she knows.
Setting: Jill obviously knows and loves the Appalachian Mountains where the story takes place, and it shows in her writing. But Jill doesn’t bombard with purple prose. She works in her descriptions:
Suddenly, a gust of wind sent yellow leaves swirling around us like a golden tornado, and I urged Spoofer into a trot. The sky was brilliant cobalt and the warm colors of autumn were at their peak, but this didn’t register on my brain. As I passed one of the back pastures— now unused because there were about thirty fewer horses than when Mommy rode and showed— I should have marveled at the blue wildflowers that carpeted the landscape. But there was only room in my mind to think of this new victim.
Significant action takes place in the grand old house where Sarah lives, so this setting gets some nice description as well:
The foyer has remained unchanged since the days of my great-grandparents. It was still beautiful, with polished wood walls and a mahogany staircase that gracefully ascended to the next level. Each precious step was protected by a Persian carpet of deep, warm tones that flowed down the staircase like a river. Caramel colored alabaster globes, glowing with soft light, sat upon each newel post and threw elongated reflections across the polished, inlaid floor.
In my ‘umble, good clear settings help orient readers so that they can see the action of the narrative more clearly. And every story exists within its own world. I like a story that splashes a little light on that world, and Jill does just that.
What I thought could’ve been done better: View From My Soul is mostly in first-person, narrated by the protagonist. But perhaps 35 to 40 percent — guesstimation, I could be off — is third-person narrative from the killer’s point of view.
This third-person narrative is well written in and of itself — chilling even. But I found it so different from Sarah’s friendly, confiding narrative as to pose a distraction. It’s not so much that point-of-view switches. It’s the first-person to third-person change.
It reminded me of those old BBC television shows from the 80s and 90s, where the director had interior scenes shot in video and exteriors shot with film. It’s jarring and distracting, and takes the viewer — or in this case the reader — out of the illusion that the author has so skillfully spun.
Jill’s writing is good enough so that you get right back into the story — until the next switch — but, what reader, writer or story needs even a momentary shift in gears?
Author Gerry Conway, who wrote for Marvel and DC comics back in the 70’s, encountered the dilemma of separate points of view in his 1971 novel The Midnight Dancers. He solved it, in my opinion, by beginning each chapter title with the name of that chapter’s narrator. Then, even though he switched characters, he kept the story in first person.
What I thought was good: Even major novels from the big publishing houses with editors and proofreaders have minor typos here and there. So when an indie book manages to meet that same editing standard, I think it’s worth noting.
For the most part, Jill has eliminated most of the typos and grammar errors that plague many an indie novel. I think I noted about three or four minor typos, such as leaving an “ed” off a word that should be in past tense.
But overall, a fine job on the mechanics.
I’ve already mentioned the good job Jill does with her characters. One thing I particularly enjoyed about Sarah — along with wealth and psychic gifts, Jill gifts her with very human insecurities, and even a bit of guilt about being well-off.
Outside, I blinked in the bright sunlight. I had done it. I had made a commitment to take on a spirit as a client. I felt myself choking with emotion. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I couldn’t find him? Or, worse, what if he found me first?
I sat down on the stone wall that surrounded St. Vincent’s and listened to the muted tones of the choir and Father Chris. I put my head in my hands and sobbed. I had successfully used the chardonnay to keep me from being haunted by all my self-doubts and now, outside this country cathedral, I felt as though I’d been laid bare.
Though I’ve mentioned that I think the shift into third-person for showing the killer’s perspective is distracting, I also think the writing is well done. Hope that’s not conflicting. In any case, Jill does a good job with the killer:
As he walked along the path, he shook his head and told himself that he hadn’t wanted to do it. He hadn’t wanted to kill her. But he knew that if he didn’t kill her, he’d just end up having to kill himself.
And, no matter how shitty his life was, he wasn’t ready for that yet. Besides, he already knew how he was going to go. He’d seen enough TV to get it right. He’d just go blasting into one of the schools— probably in the Stony Brook area where all the rich snobs lived— and cut down as many of their spoiled little brats as he could. They even had a name for it: suicide by cop.
What a way to go! His name would be in all the papers and maybe even on Fox News.
I want to note here that this was written four months before the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
And there are some genuinely creepy, unearthly moments:
The moon flooded the room with blue light. After I determined that I was wide awake, not dreaming, that my eyes were functioning and that even my dog was looking at the apparition, I turned back to face the girl on the wall behind me. By now she appeared fully formed, but still ghostly blue-white, like a delicately shaped cloud.
I knew by the way she tugged at my heart that she was the girl who had appeared to me on the mountain. She stretched out her hands to me and said: Find him.
Before I had a chance to reply, she was pushed out of the way by a huge form, round and ponderous, with no distinctive characteristics but a gigantic mouth. The mouth opened and freezing, foul air engulfed me.
View From My Soul earns its paranormal tags.
Overall: In Sarah Seere, Jill has created an engaging heroine, even more so for being middle-aged and having her share of insecurities. She surrounds Sarah with plenty of components for a great tale ~ a frightening, yet plausible villain, good friends, mystery, ghosts, visions, and a beautiful mountain backdrop.
Jill serves it up with a conversational, informal writing style that makes View From My Soul a pleasure to read, even if at times it’s a spooky pleasure.
Good job Jill!
And for a sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thriller, check out my own novel American Goddesses ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!