Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Review and Giveaway (Sort of): Tainted Dish by Charles L. Fields

Well, this is a new one for me.  I’ve had this blog for what, seven months?  Thereabouts, anyway.  And in all that time I haven’t read a book I couldn’t finish.  Until now.

The offender is a book called Tainted Dish.  It’s the third in the Charles Stone series of travel mysteries by Charles L. Fields, and I got to tell you—I don’t want to rip it to shreds.  I really don’t.  The author is a gentlemen if there ever was one.  When I told him I didn’t like the book, he asked me for a more detailed critique and then thanked me for my input.  He was humble and courteous and everything that an author should be.  A joy to talk to, really.  Some of those folks on Poketfulofbooks’ Authors Behaving Badly series could learn a thing or two from him.  But like it says on the review policy, if I read it, that means I got to review it.  And rules is rules, right?

Right.  So let’s get to it.

Charles Stone is in his fifties, a widower, and part owner of the Boston security firm McGraw Stone and Tucker. His previous adventures have taken him around the globe, investigating, swashbuckling, and generally solving peoples’ problems where they intersect with international politics and intrigue. His third adventure, however, has him sticking closer to home.  A friend of the family (also recently windowed, as it so happens) named Janice Johnson has inherited her late husband’s half of a very successful satellite dish development and manufacturing company.  The other half of the company is owned by Sam Torkilson, and he’s pissed at having to share it.  To make matters worse, the plant manager has been found impaled and gruesomely murdered on one of their prototype satellite dishes, so Janice calls in Chuck and company to sort things out.

Sounds like the kind of thing that would be right up my alley, doesn’t it?  Sure, that’s why I requested a review copy in the first place.  But there were problems with it I just couldn’t overlook.  The dialogue felt stilted and unrealistic in parts, and did nothing to lend any depth to the characters.  The villain seemed like a caricature with dialogue and reactions that felt grossly exaggerated—and don’t get me started on the plot holes.  In addition, every other page it seemed like the author was going on about another Boston landmark, which is interesting and all (and maybe why the book was called a “travel mystery”), but all it did was slow down the narrative with tangential information and turned it into more of a travel guide more than a mystery.  The book was rife with grammatical and typographical errors, too.  But what really got my goat, the thing that made put down the book and say, “I just can’t do this anymore,” was the POV.

Point of view.  Yeah, that old ditty.  I’ve railed against POV here multiple times in the past, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this.  At around page fifty, there’s a scene with the evil villain, told from third person limited from the evil villain’s point of view.  He get’s a call from our hero (Charles), who tells him off about some of the nasty things he’s been doing.  And then the POV abruptly switches—no scene break, mind you—to the hero’s first person narrative as the villain hangs up on him.  Number one, I don’t like books that use both first person and third person in alternating scenes.  If your main character’s first person narrative can’t carry the story by itself, it shouldn’t be in first person.  Part of the reason they invented the third person narrative in the first place (they being… I don’t know, the Sumerians or some other old as shit civilization) was so they could tell the story of multiple people in the same narrative.  It has worked perfectly fine for thousands of years.  Don’t fuck with it.

Of course there are exceptions.  Epistolary novels?  Sure.  Round-robin story telling stuff like The Canterbury Tales?  Awesome.  But a contemporary mystery/thriller with no narrative gimmick that just mashes up 1st person and 3rd person POVs for no good reason?  That I can’t abide by.  That’s just my opinion, of course.  Plenty of authors have defied Wilhoit’s Rules of Narrative Structure (I’m trademarking that when I nail down some other tenets, by the way) and met with plenty of success and literary acclaim.  But screw ‘em, I don’t care.  Alternating first and third person just shouldn’t be done.  And when it happens in the middle of a chapter sans-scene break, I’m out.  Cash in my chips, thank you very much for letting me play, but I must be on my way. 

I’ve reviewed some real stinkers on here before, but none that I simply couldn’t finish.  Maybe the difference between this one and the rest comes down to my own prejudices about POV and narrative structure.  Maybe, but I’m not so sure.  So take what I said with a grain of salt.  Hell, read it yourself and formulate your own opinion.  If someone wants the book, I’ll even mail it to them free of charge (U.S. only, though).  You just say the word.  It’ll be one less book for me to keep track of, and maybe someone else will get some enjoyment out of it.  


  1. Maybe you should do a giveaway for it? Everyone loves the free shit fairy. Promotion for the author and the winner can read it for them self and see what they think. Also you volunteered to be on my blog. Yep taking you up on that offer. Guest post it baby you know whenever you have the time.

    1. I thought about doing a giveaway (and LOL about the "free shit fairy"), but I think I would feel bad about telling people, "Hey, this book sucked ass, but wouldn't you like to win a copy?" I think I'd rather give it to the first person who says they want it. It requires less effort that way.

      And about the guest post--I'll let you know about that. I'm going to have to nail down my reading list for next month, and I'll try to pick something that would fit into your usual milieu. I'll be in touch about it, for sure.

  2. Great post Jonathan.
    I have had my share of authors coming at me full force because I didn't like the book. One even wrote a two page letter with a whole bunch of curses, some I've never heard (and I was in the military). Of course I'll never again read any of his books and he put me off Indie authors for a while.

    I'm glad you had a positive experience and kudos to Mr. Fields for wanting to get better.


    1. Thanks, Z. Coming from you, that's high praise.

      It really is a shame that so many authors out there take bad reviews the way they do. I mean, I understand that I just ripped apart their baby. It stings, I know. But looking at it a different angle, someone took the time out of their day to read your book. Even if they didn't like it, they took time out of their day to read your book. They put a considerable amount of effort into it, reading the book, posting a review, and sometimes providing valuable critical feedback. Even if you don't agree with them, the only polite and reasonable thing to do is to thank them for their input and move on with life. Not everyone is going to like your work. Even Shakespeare had his detractors. So if you insist upon railing against everyone who didn't like your book, you're going to die one seriously exhausted person.

      Charles knows how to do it. I can't applaud him enough in that regard.

  3. I want a giveaway of "Wilhoit’s Rules of Narrative Structure".

    Just sayin.

    1. I doubt wnyone will actually want to buy said rules, so if I ever do codify them, you can consider them a permanent giveaway. :)

  4. I bet I can out stink this. Try Henry's Sisters by Cathy Lamb. I've yet to find a book that comes even close.

    I'd take the free book just to see if it could be worse. Alas, I'm not in the U.S. I might pick this book up simply because the author seems like a stand up guy.

    1. I'm scared to even look that what that book is about. And you know I'd send this 'un to you if I could find an economical way to send it to Taiwan. Any ideas?