Combining genres and their elements is a recipe as old as there has been literature. In fact, I’ve reviewed several, some great, some not-so-great. So when Suicide Note hit my table billed as a romantic suspense novel, I was certainly intrigued. As any long-time reader knows, I’m a sucker for a romantic dinner, not to mention a lover of thrills and chills. So, sharpening my knife and fork, I dove in, unsure of what I would actually taste but filled with gusto none the less. So what did this Starving Reviewer find inside this treat?
Before we find out the answer, I must, as required by culinary law, report on the Starving Review rules:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre.
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.
Before I just come out and say it, let me put forth a disclaimer: For those of you new to my reviews, let me tell you that my more critical reviews tend to be longer than my positive ones. With that being said, if you don’t have a lot of time to peruse this review and want to get to the rating, you had better skip down there now.
With that done, let’s just be blunt. Suicide Note is not a good book. Frankly, I could do my job by simply stating that and then giving my rating and felt my job is done. However, as a literary cook myself, I know it would be a disservice not only to the readers but the author if I did so. Criticism, even if it is extensive, is what drives us to create better and better dishes in the literary kitchen and, for that reason, I will be extensive and perhaps blunt. My apologies ahead of time.
First, the language. No, I am not a Grammar Nazi and I certainly have typos I continue to weed out of my own published works. Still, there comes a point where grammar and style can seriously impinge on the reader’s enjoyability of the book. At no point does Suicide (no, I won’t make the easy and obvious joke) become unreadable but quite often the slap-dash writing and lack of attention to grammar will hit you hard. For example, almost every time someone says ‘I am’, it is contracted to ‘I’m’. What’s the problem? Well, then someone (and this happens fairly often) simply states ‘I am’, that’s the problem. People who excel in the kitchen are excellent ‘cookers’. There are no butts or rears or asses, just endless ‘booties’. Sentence structure is all over the place. On top of that, the dialogue is wooden and riddled with odd artifacts of speech that don’t correspond to how most people speak in modern New York City. In addition, many words are overused. I know that thesaurus abuse is a common problem but on the other end of the spectrum it is just as bad.
Second, pacing. The titular ‘suicide note’ isn’t introduced until halfway through the book, forcing the suspense part of the plot to be compressed into the back half. Even then, the real rising action doesn’t begin for quite a few more chapters. It doesn’t help that the wooden and flat characterization spoils any real building tension. We are told many things about the characters in this book and, in a faux-pas I am seeing quite often, given tons of direct ‘third-person-omniscient’ brain downloads from them, but their actions rarely line up with their reputations. This kind of informed characterization just leaves readers bored and confused, trying to coincide the actions the characters take with their informed personalities and just become frustrated with it. Even when the action does move forward, there is never a real sense of threat or dramatic pay-off.
Third, mystery. Kudos to Mr. Cox for the bravery of actually writing out the ‘encrypted mystery’ element of the book. Unfortunately, it reveals a serious issue with actually doing that: few people can create something so mysterious that it backs up what the plot establishes about it. The mystery item that was described, something that flummoxes multiple characters for days on end, was something I deciphered (just as a lowly and hunger-addled reviewer) in five minutes, ten minutes tops. Instantly, it shattered what suspension of disbelief I had left. If Mr. Cox had simply said that the item in question was obscured by some complex encryption instead of actually detailing it, things would have been fine. Instead, we have a mystery worked up with flavors of a Gordian Knot but really it’s as flavorful and interesting as a basic slipknot.
Fourth, characterization. I’ve already touched on this but let’s be crystal clear. Characters are one of the core basic ingredients of any culinary masterpiece. Suicide Note‘s characters have all the texture and taste of cardboard with a few drops of artificial flavoring added in. It is all so very frustrating. It doesn’t help that there are some very broad things said about both men and women in this book, things that border on the line of sexist and off-putting. All the men in this book espouse the virtues of beauty and the importance of a vigorous sex-life to the point that even the supposedly virtuous men open ogle beautiful women while all the women are presented as wildly emotional and often irrational in action, all chalked up to simply ‘being women’. Okay, so it may actually BE sexist. And that leads to even flatter characters. It’s the problem of making characters based on WHAT they are instead of WHO they are. If all men have a certain baseline characterization, then all male characters suddenly become a lot more alike.
Fifth, plot. There are simply elements of the plot that are poorly explained or make little sense. Major crimes are made to disappear by the end of the book. Corrupt police become hailed as super cops. People are able to disappear, apparently have no issues spending money or going to the hospital, but remain undetected by anyone. There is a serious infusion of ‘Dim Bulb’ brand flavoring or else the plot just fails to work. Conclusions are jumped, logic is ignored, and it just gets nuts. It’s especially disheartening because this plot COULD be made to work with some mechanical fixes, adding a little more doubt and mystery, and with a complete character edit.
And I’m spent. Am I being overly critical? Those who experienced this meal with me vicariously as I shouted, food dribbling out of my mouth, would say no. I do hope sincerely that Mr. Cox takes this dinner back to the kitchen … the mixture of romance and suspense could be incredibly potent and flavorful with love and care … but for now, I can only suggest that, unless you want a half-baked, sexist, and meandering ‘romance’ with only the bare hints of suspense, you stay away from Suicide Note. If you have any sensitivity to sexism against either men or women, double dose that ‘stay away’.
FINAL VERDICT: ** (What promise this tasty mixture of genres had is overwhelmed by poor pacing, an illogical plot, and the foul tastes of sexism both towards men and women!)