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 Consider Her Dead, a romantic thriller by Jan Ryder that I finished reading last week.
Characters: Protagonist Samantha Shelley is a surprisingly typical young woman. Samantha is blonde, attractive, but with no special powers or skills other than being smart and hardworking in the boatyard bequeathed to her by her recently deceased husband Adam.
Jan also gifts her heroine with persistence, and a desire to get to the bottom of things. Sam, however, is burdened with guilt about her husband’s death. Sam wants the same things many a responsible young woman wants — a family, a home, to be loved and cherished, and someone she in turn can love and cherish.
Jan surrounds Sam with men, including her boatyard workforce, police and government agents, both legitimate and rogue. From Sam’s reasonable woman’s point of view, the men, even those closest too her, seem hulking, vaguely threatening, almost like alien creatures, all with their own hostile agendas.
Which of them are friends and which are enemies? Nothing is as it seems in this treacherous male minefield, yet Sam does her best to navigate it with pluck and determination. Those characteristics take her only so far, however.
Plot: Bad guys are out to kill Samantha — both those involved in a conspiracy to possess a super high-tech prototype military killing machine, and others who want her dead for more personal reasons. How hard can killing her be?
Settings: Jan has a gift for describing settings. The coastal locations, British and Spanish, are practically additional characters. Jan wastes no time in offering the flavor of the boatyard locale.
The freezing dawn was getting lighter. Samantha Shelley trudged along the water’s edge, her boots marking a lonely trail on the hard, wet sand. She shivered and zipped her padded jacket all the way up. The faded green fabric covered a worn fisherman’s sweater slung over shabby blue dungarees, the legs tucked inside her muddy Wellington boots.
Herring Gulls were soaring across the towering red cliffs, wheeling and diving in a graceful ballet. She listened to their desolate cries, halting briefly to look back the way she’d come, to her boat yard at the eastern end of the golden, curving bay. Higher still was her house, a Victorian brick pile on the cliff top, its single gothic tower jutting into the sky.
Jan does a great job using settings to orient readers in the time and space of her tale.
What I thought could be done better: This is another one of the books where I really have to stretch to come up with something. I don’t believe I saw a single misspelled word — topnotch mechanics.
If I have to criticize — and I do, to be balanced — I’ll start with personal description. I like personal description. I want to see the characters the way the author sees them. The only way that can happen is if the author describes the characters. Oval face with a heart-shaped mouth, pert nose, and green, feline eyes?
And Jan delivers this for every character except Sam. She has fair hair, and that’s about all we get. On the other hand, here’s a fairly minor character, Detective Inspector Chapman:
The DI was a different breed of police officer from the steady PC Fuller. A shiny suit enclosed a tough thirty-something body. Deep blue eyes stared out from a hard-jawed face topped by black hair gelled flat to his scalp.
Once in awhile, not often — again, I’m reaching here — there’s what I would consider a clumsy turn of phrase:
Constable Tom Fuller’s chunky, dependable frame strode in.
I can just hear my many writing teachers, both journalistic and creative, asking “His frame strode in? What about the rest of him?”
Using the verb “to be” where direct action verbs should be used is another pet peeve of mine. Jan does this hardly at all. In fact, her writing is so wonderfully verbal and action-packed, that the few instances where “to be” does creep in makes them stand out, at least to me. Probably only to me. But there are two examples in the previously quoted passages from the “Settings” section:
“The freezing dawn was getting lighter.” Try “The freezing dawn grew lighter.”
And “Herring Gulls were soaring across the towering red cliffs, wheeling and diving in a graceful ballet.” How about “Herring Gulls soared across the towering red cliffs, wheeling and diving in a graceful ballet.”
Ninety eight percent or more of the book is written with just such splendid direct verbs. Pretty sure Jan does a better job with them than I do in my own books.
What I thought was good: Even in the preceding critical section, I think I commented on much of what I liked in this terrific story. The vivid verbs and the physical character description, along with the fine settings make Consider Her Dead an easy, entertaining read.
Dialogue is also life-like. I’m not British, but I watch a lot of BBC programming and lines like the following — Constable Fuller’s criticism of DI Chapman — has the ring of real speech to me:
“This DI’s keen. Wants results. He’s new. Takes shortcuts. A city boy. Doesn’t understand tides and suchlike.” PC Fuller’s upper lip curled into a half moon of distaste, revealing his feelings about city boys.
I can just hear that “…and suchlike.”
Here’s the vivid verbs again — not in any climactic battle — just cars pulling up in a hurry:
More vehicle tires screeched to a halt, sending a gravel hailstorm clattering on the front wall.
I enjoyed also how Sam, despite the fact that nearly everyone and everything in the story is bigger, stronger and meaner than she is, is not afraid to deliver her share of kick-ass.
She stepped in and swung the heavy wrench two-handed. She put her whole weight behind it. He must have sensed the danger. His head came round. His shoulders followed the thought, bringing the pistol to his right. His left foot sidestepped. He had no time to complete the movement. The crushing blow caught him on the right temple. He swayed, took two faltering steps, and crumpled to the ground.
Billy threw his hood back. He stared at her, open-mouthed. His amazed expression was almost comical.
She grinned at him, triumphant. “Are you all right?” she yelled.
I think what I like most, though, is the impenetrable moral landscape. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad? Samantha thinks she knows, then events force her to change her mind, then other events force her to change it back again, and the truth is…well you’ll have to read it for yourself. No spoilers here. But just like life, I’m not sure anyone, even the people involved, know what’s truly happening.
Overall: Consider Her Dead is an absorbing, action-packed read. It’s drenched in mood and filled with vivid, well-described characters and places. The gemstone in this finely wrought setting, however, is protagonist Samantha — a woman like so many I know in real life — who faces obstacles unflinchingly, who never loses her ability to care and love, and who, like in the old Chinese saying, when knocked down seven times, gets up eight.
Good job, Jan!
RUN by Al Levine
Honest Indie Book Reviews will take a brief sabbatical following this next review, while I focus on completing ROGUE GODDESSES, sequel to AMERICAN GODDESSES. I expect to be back on the indie review trail by the end of the year.