Saturday, 28 June 2014

Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich

I was perched on a barstool in a dark, noisy,overpriced restaurant in Princeton, New Jersey.

So what should come next? Why is this person perched in a dark, noisy,overpriced restaurant? Who is perched in a dark, noisy,overpriced restaurant? Perhaps introduce conflict? We don't need conclusions that would ruin or give away the rest of the story, just some reason to care that someone is perched on a barstool. Instead we get:

I was wearing a red dress that was too tight, too short, and cut way too low.

As this novel is part of a series I assume this has some significance that only those familiar with the series will understand. If not, it is a mere cliched fashion statement, objectifying and demeaning women. In any case its esoteric symbolism is lost on a newbie. The first paragraph ends with:

And I was wearing an earbud that connected me to a guy named Ricardo...

This is the first hint of conflict and a reason to care: someone is about to go down, suggesting that this pronoun is undercover or on a stakeout. Ending the paragraph with something important is fine and is a sign of good paragraph writing, but as this is the opening, the opening sentence should have the spotlight, not the end. It is the only paragraph in a story where the emphatic emphasis rule of writing (end strong) doesn't apply.

Then we get the Hardy Boys' backs story/marketing plug that begins with:

My name is Stephanie Plum.

Not long after we get some explanation regarding the situation. She is helping Ricardo stalk an untouchable and bring him in by sipping a drink, which needs explaining all in itself. The writer or narrator obviously doesn't trust that everyone knows the ins and outs of Sambuca.

First thing said:

"The room is clean."

Despite a little dilly-dallying to establish the tone - that working girl with attitude chick-lit tone, a scene unfolds with a little conflict, as an arrest is made. But it's not a really interesting scene, for once you've read one arrest, you've read them all. In fact, there are only a couple ways an arrest can go down - peacefully or violently. Neither are really that interesting to read about. They are fun to watch live though, film and post to YouTube.

Once the arrest is made, the plot dissipates as Stephanie goes back to her drink and wallows in the advances of Ricardo (no need for a description of Ree-CAAAAAR-Do; the name says it all.), as this turns into one of those romances, filled with melodrama, sentiment, corniness and innuendo before finishing up with a sort of twisted and satisfied sexual frustration that only White America is capable of.

So this opening has no mystery or puzzle or reason to care for the characters. Of course, as this is part of a series, the author assumes her fans are already hooked. That is all well and fine, but how to get new readers interested in a book, or in its series? If there is no hook that makes each novel stand out on a bookshelf in a store, can one rely on the byline hook to pull in new readers? I suspect so. It's the byline that sells, not the quality of the work. In a hundred years or even less, this junk will not be read - assuming the Theory of Evolution is not a theory. The only reason it's read now is that it's riding a marketing wave. With a byline and title inundating the market, powered by a nuclear PR engine, some poor saps will succumb and buy out of curiosity, some will buy out of habit because they lack the will to try something different, and some will buy because they are mindlessly addicted to the series, like people who can't stop scratching skin infected with ringworm or picking their nose. That is to say, as horrible as it is, it's kind of pleasant.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

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