Monday, March 3, 2014

A Simple Act Of ViolenceA Simple Act Of Violence by R.J. Ellory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

R.J. Ellory's "A Simple Act of Violence" begins as a standard police procedural. A woman is murdered in Washington D.C., and the crime scene has the same markings as in three previous murders. The perpetrator is dubbed the Ribbon Killer because of signature ribbons left behind at the scenes. At this point the reader expects a conventional cat-and-mouse game between the serial killer and the police, but pretty soon it becomes clear that this is not a typical serial murder spree. Something much more sinister is involved; there is a Very Big Secret behind the murders. In a nice twist, the cat-and-mouse game seems to be about helping the police. The novel interleaves two threads: a police procedural in which the detectives work on the case and a first-person narrative by somebody closely connected to the case, who gradually provides the background and explanations.

I appreciate the author's powerful and emotional indictment of forces and people who are behind the Very Big Secret. However, the message would be more persuasive if the novel were cut by half in volume, maybe by even more. Particularly the first-person narrative thread tends to drag on and on, which destroys the tension created in the police investigation thread. Also, the reader will likely get impatient with how obtuse the detectives are. At some point it becomes clear that, in a certain sense, the murder victims did not ever exist. The only rational explanation is rather obvious, yet it takes almost 300 pages and an outside intervention for the detectives to figure out what is going on.

(An aside: I have always wondered why mysteries are so long - is it because the publishers believe the readers prefer longer books? Do they have any data on that? Or is that because shorter books would not justify high prices? I believe most books would be better if they were limited to, say, 200-250 pages.)

The ending disappoints; it feels as if the author forgot the central message and decided to provide theatrical trappings of a silly thriller. Mr. Ellory is a gifted writer, but I am certain his novel would be much better if he cut every other sentence in it.

Two and a half stars.

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