I’m conflicted about writing a negative review of this book. I stopped reading, which is usually a 1-star (I didn’t like it) review, but the merits of this book still pushed me towards a 2-star rating (It was OK).
The reason for my conflict is that I dislike the style of Sturak’s writing, but I acknowledge that he has a way with words and that there are almost no mistakes in his prose.
Let me first state what I liked about the book:
The cover is brilliant, I think. Ominous and eye-popping despite the lack of bright colours. Clearly a professional cover.
The blurb is also good. Good, clear prose, and a concise conflict that interested me.
Which is why I’m disappointed in the content of the book itself and stopped reading at the end of chapter 10.
Like I said, Sturak has a way with words, but instead of form following function, function was definitely subservient to form. Sounding a bit too pleased at his ability to write a simile or metaphor, Sturak’s convoluted prose strangles the story like kudzu vines killing a tree by taking away all sunlight.
I read part of the sample before I downloaded the book (for free) and was at first captivated by the prose, but after a while I started to long for the clear, concise prose Sturak used in his blurb.
Make no mistake, Sturak can write. I enjoyed the flowery descriptions: “A subway station bustled, infected with morning commuters.” The images were wonderful, however, the descriptions often tended to run several paragraph and dragged down the pace of the story.
Meanwhile the characters are unsympathetic without fail. Trevor Malloy is an arrogant and sadistic hitman, and his wife Laura is described in loving detail as a ‘housewife, a homemaker and babysitter when the kids weren’t in school’ with ‘a hourglass figure’ with the ‘naive look of an auburn-haired Hollywood star from the 1940s with her simple elegance’ who ‘spoiled her children’ and was in turn ‘spoiled by her husband with a large bankroll, which offered her a life filled with salon trips and a closet filled with designer clothes’. She behaves unsympathetic, complaining that she ‘doesn’t understand why her husband bought a trampoline’ when all the children do ‘is jump on that trampoline the minute they got home’. In all the interaction with the children and her husband she comes across as a whiny insecure hellion.
Brian Boise is an overworked detective who’d rather spend time crawling up the career ladder than with his haranguing wife and non-descript sullen kid constantly complaining about Boise’s lack of attention. His colleagues are rude, obnoxious turds who belittle and ridicule him.
Along with the drawn-out descriptions that reeked of verbal diarrhoea, Sturak has a tendency to talk down to his readers as if they are totally ignorant of the world around them:
Katie and Kevin jumped from the trampoline and ran toward their father at the back patio. Their dad was tall and wore a dark gray suit with black onyx cufflinks securing his French cuffs. He was wheeling a 20″ Travelpro Rollaboard carry-on featuring toughened nylon waterproof ball-bearing inline skate wheels and a Checkpoint-friendly laptop compartment–the ultimate addition to the frequent business traveler. The kids hugged him tenderly, just as two kids did who adored their father.
Like we need the retailer’s description of his luggage and the pointers that the kids adore their father.
Brian lowered his voice as lovers did when they expressed their feelings verbally.
This is a detective trying to convince his wife that it’s a good career move to solve a copycat murder case.
The verbosity extends to the use of alternative speech tags for the simple ‘said/whispered/yelled’, but often missed the ball:
“I want spaghetti!” Kevin shouted.
“I want hot dogs!” his sister contradicted.
To contradict is to deny the truth (of a statement) by asserting the opposite, and hot dogs are not the opposite of spaghetti.
“All you do is jump on (the trampoline) all day long.”
“Not all day, Mom. We have school,” Kevin clarified.
Kevin’s reply is a retort, not a clarification.
One of his gloved hands gripped his proverbial briefcase.
I wondered to what proverb or idiom the briefcase referred, but evidently Sturak means that the briefcase always accompanied the character.
The silhouette of an inert figure holding a briefcase stared at him.
Inert means lacking the ability or strength to move, it’s not a substitute for ‘motionless’.
…, the tingle of adrenaline flowing through his amplified veins.
Amplification is the increase in volume of sound, not an increase in physical volume of matter. Though sometimes used to describe the intensifying of feelings (amplified hearing) or concepts (amplified political unrest), or enlarging upon or adding detail to a story or statement, the widening of veins is not amplification.
The verbose prose also tends to dramatise everyday inanimate objects in a way that irritated me:
On the nightstand, a clock blared “11:57.”
The clock is not making any sound, so blaring is odd.
Without warning, the car propelled on the track, and just like that, chaos ensued.
This is a description of a leaving subway train during normal ‘rush hour’. The departure of a subway train is usually preceded by doors hissing shut and the soft tug when the train starts moving, so it’s not shooting forward ‘without warning’. No ‘chaos ensues’, but rather the normal bustle of a subway station continues.
This time he dropped the cake on the floor. It detonated.
The sponge cake ‘detonates’? Since ‘detonate’ means ‘causing to explode’, the description goes awry. Sponge cake, even if flung at a tile floor, rarely explodes and never causes anything to explode.
The third floor elevators sat in tranquility, but then an abrupt ding sliced through the silence. The shining doors opened as Trevor strolled off.
Quite a dramatic description for an elevator arriving and a passenger getting off.
Large maps of the city were sprawled across the walls.
Sprawling is a horizontal action (sitting, lying, falling), not a vertical one.
(Character opens a top drawer.) Inside, a 9mm pistol, silencer, and ammunition glared at him.
So a pistol stares at him angrily or fiercely? While I concur that a pistol might have a menacing or ominous vibe, glaring requires eyes, something a gun lacks.
I’m sure many readers will probably delight in Sturak’s wordiness, but I couldn’t be bothered to drag myself through garrulous blathering with literary pretensions where I expected a tense thriller.
This almost turned into another ‘stopped reading’ review, except that I wanted to know what happened to Martin Calvary, the protagonist. So I ignored my many reasons to delete this book from my Kindle and struggled through the formatting errors that cropped up in the last quarter of the book.
Should I have? Perhaps not, but I was curious to see if Stevens had a twist at the end that would be worth it. There was something that should’ve been a twist, except that it didn’t surprise me in the slightest. Maybe less discerning readers will be surprised by the ending, I don’t know.
So, the formatting errors… I actually contacted the author and he wrote me a very nice PM telling me that he had a giveaway through Bookbub with some 30,000 downloads, with all the Kindle versions containing the formatting errors, but not the ePubs. I can understand that through some mistake an older file containing proofreading notes and formatting errors ends up in an e-book.
So, if you have one of these screwed up Severance Kill e-books, maybe you can get a new corrected file through Manage my Kindle. Or you can just ignore the typos, missing quotes and strike-through sentences. And overlook the awkward prose when a sick woman running up the steps is ‘ignoring the complaints from her unaccustomed knees’ and operatives being ‘linked up telephonically’.
However, I pointed out that there were many more mistakes unrelated to the formatting issue. Mr. Stevens didn’t show any interest in my feedback, so I’ll just put them in my review.
On the whole, the book was well-written. I had some trouble with the start of the book, where Calvary is getting his ass kicked out of a fourth-floor apartment, manages to keep from falling to his death, and gets back into the apartment to finish the target. The target, who first puts up a fight and almost finishes Calvary, suddenly retreats into his apartment, where the target suddenly changes into a weakling.
Calvary crouches in front of the sitting target, lays a hand on either side of the man’s face and kills him with a crack… So what did Calvary do? Break his neck? Let’s just say, don’t believe the action movies you’ve seen about how easy it is to break someone’s neck. The author is a doctor with the National Health Service, so he might be hesitant to give an exact blow-by-blow on how to break someone’s neck, but to break someone’s neck while crouched in front of him and holding his ears is quite a challenge.
After that, Calvary gets blackmailed into doing a last job in Prague, where he reminisces about his past kills. And I almost put the book down.
Because Calvary reminisces about electrocuting a target in his bathtub. By throwing a battery-operated transistor radio into the bath. The death of the target is horrifying. “Crackles and screams, churning mix of water and blood and effluent, like a shark’s attack” and the victim dies with a rictus of agony and a hand clawing the air.
Impressive, if it wasn’t that a battery-operated transistor radio tossed in a bathtub will not have a sufficiently high charge to electrocute a human being. I could start a whole explanation about the milliamps used by transistor radio and how many transistor radios would have to be submerged in your bath to tickle your heart into the high frequency fatal fluttering of a heart attack, but even then the victim will not flail about like they are chewing on a high voltage wire.
And while I can understand someone emptying their bowels when they are electrocuted, how exactly does all that blood get in the water? And what makes the water churn? Not the two 9V batteries in the transistor radio, I can tell you.
If killing someone by tossing a battery-operated transistor radio into their baths would work, lots of disgruntled housewives would be buying battery-operated transistor radios…
With my bullshit radar now on full alert I read on.
Calvary relieves someone of his semi-automatic pistol and thumbs the safety before he slips it in his pocket. When he takes the pistol from his pocket a few pages later and hands it to someone, the pistol turns out to be a Glock 17. And Glocks have not safety to be thumbed. The safety of the Glock is a small ‘second trigger’ inside the trigger.
Moments later Calvary takes ‘the Browning’ because ‘the Browning has to be cocked before every shot and the Glock chambered a new round automatically, making it easier for a novice to use’. The Browning, like the Glock, is a semi-automatic pistol. You might have to pull the slide to chamber the first round, but after that the blowback action of the slide will chamber a new round from the spring-loaded magazine in the grip.
The last part of the story featured strike through sentences, misspelled words like ’trial’ for ‘trail’, omitted words like ‘[character name] phone went’, double words like ‘ahead he fancied saw the car park’ [maybe so you can choose which verb you think is most appropriate?] and quotes missing so you have to guess what is narrative and what is dialogue. Sometimes the Third Person Limited perspective featured intrusions of First Person, often right in the middle of action scenes, ‘one of her feet catching him on the cheekbone. It wasn’t enough to put me off. Calvary began to crawl…’ and so on.
All that could be overlooked if the characters didn’t start doing improbable things, like Calvary on the run renting a car with cash but expressing no worries about having to show his driving license because ‘he [protagonist] doubted [antagonists] would be monitoring every car rental place in the city’.
Their spy craft must be worse than mine, because—despite not being a professional spy—I would definitely monitor every means of (public) transport in a hundred mile radius if I were looking for a spy on the run.
But then, Calvary could be right about the antagonists lack of tracking skills. The scene shifts to the antagonists who are fretting because one of their operatives has been incommunicado for almost a day. Finally the leader has a brilliant idea and goes to the communications officer, where the leader asks an underling ‘can you get a GPS trace on [missing operative’s] phone?’ The comm officer, who has been twiddling her thumbs apparently, answers affirmatively and set to work.
Again: seriously? These antagonists are supposed to be veteran’ intelligence’ officers, and they wait for hours before they decide to put a trace on their missing team member?
With my suspension of disbelief blown beyond repair I finished the book.
Wasted potential. 2/5 stars. Only recommended if your suspension of disbelief is made out of sturdier material than mine…