Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Prayer by Philip Kerr

St. Andrew's Cathedral,
Glasgow, Scotland
April 5, 1988

It was a bright cold day, but as if it were midsummer, I had given up my usual gray clothes of lambswool and thick flannel, and had been dressed for innocence in white cotton like all of the other children in the cathedral.

I don't know about you, but this does not hook me. Maybe the tediousness of typing it out had something to do with putting me off. It opens with weather and is actually worse than: It was a dark and stormy night... Succumbing to an explanation of what a character is wearing is a natural and non-creative way of complementing the weather motif. The only story worthy information given is that this opens in a cathedral.

What follows in the next paragraph is a bit of plot in the form of foreshadowing: This narrator is trembling because there was a mortal sin in the heart - or so imagined. We must read on to find out which. Unfortunately, the next paragraph describes the cathedral, and I start to lose interest, as the scene that is supposed to be taking form is stalling.

As well, that last comma is a mistake as what follows "and" is part of a compound predicate and not the beginning of a fresh independent clause.

Chapter 1:

From the outside, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart resembled a prison.

This opening line, while not very promising, is an improvement over the opening line in the prologue. We get a setting of a church that is compared to a prison. The first paragraph goes on to describe the setting. The paragraphs are long and thick on page 1, as they are for most of the prologue, with little dialogue and lots of back story, indicating from the get-go the pace one should expect throughout the rest of this novel.

First thing said:

"You do it like this, Giles."

This is back story talk, what someone had said once upon a time. At least we know the narrator's name now, not that I particularly cared. Although, if  the name had been something unusual like Uranus, then I would care more.

Verdict: Fail

Overall, I must say I'm disappointed. I love reading the Berlin Noir series. However, I can't say I'm surprised, as most of the Bernie Gunther books do not have remarkable opening sentences either. I've picked up Dark Matter, also by this author, several times but can't get past chapter 1.

In my mind, what separates great writers from very great writers is the treatment of the opening. After all, once a book gains momentum 50 pages in or whatever, most stories become enjoyable to the end, once the reader is finally hooked and sympathizing with the characters. This is why we stress that our reviews are not necessarily a reflection of the work as whole. However, what separates a good book from an awesome book is the beginning. Only the best of the best begin well, continue well, and end well. That kind of writer is a rare breed - and after gleaning the best seller lists, it seems they are an endangered species.

Theodore Moracht

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