Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mind Screw

My Man and I once had a conversation about Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter character. My Man says Lecter is scarier when he's a "free" man. I disagree. Lecter is at his scariest when he's locked up. Why? Because he can't physically hurt others. He has to get to them by mind-screwing them. He chips away at them, worms his way into their psyche, and toys with them. Yeah, way scarier.

I picked up Shatter by Michael Robotham when Stephen King put it on his list for recommended summer reading. Uncle Stevie was right. The villain in this story is top-notch and top-drawer. This is a guy who doesn't physically touch his victims. He doesn't even make himself seen. No, our guy talks his victims to death. They're mothers, so he uses the one thing he knows he can (their children) to psychological mind-screw with the victims to the point where they actually kill themselves. Seriously. Effed. Up.

The story follows clinical psychologist, Joe O'Loughlin, who has appeared in other books by Robotham. He's now a professor at the University of Bath and is picked up by the cops to try to talk a suicidal woman down from a bridge. He fails, she jumps. Then her teenage daughter shows up telling Joe that her mother would never commit suicide. However the police aren't willing to listen to a distraught teenage girl, until another woman ends up dead.

While part of a series, with plenty of baggage, I felt this story stood alone quite well. Joe suffers from Parkinson's Disease, has two daughters, and his marriage is a little rocky. He passionately loves his wife, but he thinks she's having an affair with her boss. She begs him not to get involved in the murder investigation, but the first victim's daughter and his own professional curiosity can't keep him away.

This was a wonderful story....until the ending. The ending pissed me off. I'll be blunt. The big reason I like genre fiction (romance, mystery/suspense) is that I get black and white endings. If I wanted ambiguous endings I'd stick to literary fiction where the authors routinely flog their characters to death or I'd read the daily newspaper. Real life is ambiguous. The ending of Shatter left me with unanswered questions. Questions like, "Hey, what happened to...." and "But wait, what's going to happen with...."

Those types of questions.

I hate those types of questions.

So what easily started out as B+/A- read for me ended up somewhere in the neighborhood of a C+. It was certainly a well-written suspense novel, with oodles of character baggage, and a villain that made my skin crawl. But I like black and white endings folks. I like having all the answers. I like having it all tied up in a neat little bow. I just do. And I felt like I didn't get that here. Bother.

A note on the audio production: I listened to the Recorded Books production on CD. This is also the production that's available through Audible. It's excellent. Sean Barrett, who has credits ranging from the BBC to the London stage, narrates - and given that the story takes place in Bath, it was nice to hear a British accent reading the story. He also does a very good job using different voices and inflections for the characters, and his reading of the villains' parts are particularly creepy. If you're interested in listening to this on audio, you really can't do much better than this production. Of course, Recorded Books routinely turns out a quality product.


Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

You find some great books I would never think of looking for. I am going to look for this one.

Kati said...

Don't ya just hate when an ending of an otherwise really good book ruins it for you? Yuck!

Sorry to hear this one's didn't work for you. Hey, can't wait to meet you at RWA next week!

Ann Aguirre said...

I tried to take this post seriously, but I am still giggling over the fact that some guy's name is Robot Ham. It could be a Robot Chicken spinoff!

Yes, I'm 12.

Lusty Reader said...

Amen and a hallelujah! Couldn't have phrased why I read genre fiction better! Symbolic, ambiguous, book-club/engligh lit class-discussion-worthy lit fic endings have their place, and that place is NOT sneaking up in our genre fiction!

sybil said...

I would read more thrillers and suspense if it weren't for the endings.

I hate the whole - I am so clever let me let you figure it out open ending shit. You are the writer, finish your fucking book.

sez me ;)

Wendy said...

Kate: It's what happens when you read book reviews for a living.

Kati: Yeah, I like my pretty package endings with festive bows on top.

Ann: I kept mistyping the name of this book (Shatter? Shattered?) but the author's name is forever burned in my brain LOL.

LR and Sybil: You find out who the bad guy is and he does get "caught." But due to certain revelations about his past, you don't know "for sure" what his punishment is. Also, I suspect romance readers will hate how the "personal relationship" stuff is "resolved." It didn't bother me too much - but most of the time I can separate my Romance Reading Brain from my Mystery Reading Brain.