Monkeewrench by P.J. Tracy
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
"The minute he'd seen that cross carved into Mary Kleinfeldt's chest, he'd had the bad feeling that this was probably one of those crimes that would haunt his old age."
It may seem vicious of me to review this book immediately after Lolita but I do not exactly set the order of books I read: other than alternating so-called "serious books" with "entertainment books," the order is random. Monkeewrench, the debut thriller by P.J. Tracy (a pseudonym of a mother-daughter writing duo) comes highly recommended as one of the more popular books of 2003 and is mentioned on several lists of best thrillers of that year. Since I am unable to share any of the enthusiasm and the book barely escapes my lowest rating I am curious about the criteria used by people who make these lists: if they have not been directly paid by authors they probably praise the book's premise without actually reading the novel.
The setup is indeed interesting. We seem to begin with three separate threads. An elderly, devoutly religious couple are slain in rural Wisconsin: the woman has a cross carved in her chest. A jogger is shot in Minneapolis. We are also introduced to five members of a software development team who work on a video game about catching a serial killer. There are more murders and - no surprise - a specter of a serial killer emerges. Life seems to follow the video game as the authors unsubtly tell the reader. All threads eventually merge and culminate in an eventful, cinematic rather than literary climax, followed by a sappy ending.
I can forgive the authors the smart-aleck, cuter-than-cute, oh-how-funny-but-not-quite, wink-at-the-reader writing style. I can forgive the plot clichés and virtually non-existent character development that makes the detectives and game developers feel less real than cartoon characters. The one thing that I am unable to forgive is that the book is twice longer than it needs to be. About 200 pages (out of ridiculous 409 pages) contain nothing but filler stuff, pointless fluff text that does not move the plot, does not enrich the characterizations, and does not tell the reader anything interesting. Pages,
and pages of padding and stuffing whose absence no reader would be able to notice.
The attempt to exploit the intersection of real world and the universe of computer games is not successful. The authors try to convey the computer developer mystique, yet they lack basic knowledge (for example, "comparative analysis software" would not be needed to merge two lists) and just reveal their naïveté. Events slow down, magically, in preparation for each major step in the plot. Lame! A congenital defect is used as a plot device. Lame! I usually give writers a lot of leeway as far as offensiveness is concerned, but not when supposedly touching fragments tastelessly combine with feeble attempts at irreverent humor. The novel fails on so many levels!
One and a quarter stars.
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