This is a gripping debut thriller, we loved it for being refreshingly original, as well as atmospheric and engrossing. It's definitely one to read in 2008. Do you agree? Let us know, we'd love to hear your thoughts!
Having just read some of the opening chapter, I have to say that I was gripped initially, but the spell was broken by an abrupt change in viewpoint after the introduction of the third character.
Until that moment I had accepted the change of viewpoints from the first character, to the child and then some back story about the child's mother because it all appeared to be taken from the omnipient position, sometimes allowing a view into a character's head.
And then I read: "Her recollections were interrupted..." Suddenly I was yanked out of the story, thinking: Wait, you mean that part was internal speech in that character's head? Did I miss something? And, dear God, isn't that kind of "...she mused to herself" line something any good writing tutor would slap you for using under any circumstances, let alone for parking it at the end of a para that didn't need it?
After that I couldn't get back into the story. I held back, expecting it to catch me on the hop again by jumping characters or viewpoint, and it did, only a few lines on: I quickly got confused over who was who and read the part about the lake as being about the child. I was expecting some action at this point; the child wanting to catch the cat had introduced tension. So I did a double-take on hitting a "she" - Wait, what, did I misread it so far and the child was a girl? Back up the text: no, that's the mother. So what the hell had happened to the cat? Was it halfway to the next village by then, or were we finished with him now, Like we were with the first character? Suddenly it felt like there was going to be no real action at all, just a series of tiny events whose real importance we would never learn.
By seemingly turning the story away from the 'boy versus cat' subplot, the tension was broken, not spun out. I found the bit about her finding her stash of bones got in the way of the real action - I got the point that we were starved enough to eat shoe leather: I didn't need it hammered home. But even so, I was torn: who was the protagonist here, who was the antagonist? Where should my sympathies lie - the cat who I hadn't 'met' but which was introduced by someone who cared about him; or the second character whose feelings at least I'd been privy too. I felt cross and jerked around at that point and stopped reading.
Possibly I'm too harsh - I've read so many books on writing that I pull apart everything I read. But equally I'm able to pinpoint precisely what bothers me, rather than just walking away from it dissatisfied or struggling on confused, unlike the average reader who is maybe willing to overlook flaws in the hope of a good story. Or maybe not.
First chapters are hard to write, but this isn't a first draft, so I expected more. I want so very much to be entertained by literature that I feel crabby when I'm let down. It's like seeing an actor slip out of character on stage, or hearing a singer suddenly morph from professional to amateur mid-song; it breaks the magic.
(Hope my best friend doesn't read this. I've promised to review her novel - she'd probably burn it before exposing it to my criticism!)
The majority of readers are not writers. The whole of the first chapter was clear to me, and I was impressed by the author's writing. What impressed me was that he managed to make the reader feel the unbearable tension experienced by everyone living in Stalinist Russia. I was gripped by the plot for the first half of the book. However, from then on it slipped into implausibility. But Rob Smith maintains tension throughout, and brilliantly captures the atmosphere of Russia at that time. Altogether, I thought it was well-plotted, original and clever. It stretches the credulity at times, but is an impressive debut novel.
So glad you enjoyed the book. I sometimes though rarely, wish that I was so easily entertained. I returned this book for a refund, something so rare that I can still count the number of times I have returned a book on the fingers of one hand.
Well Tabula Rasa I followed your orders and read the entire book. It is garbage, fifth rate twaddle. The fact that you attack anyone who stands up and criticises this book, makes one think that you have a vested interest in its success.
I initially liked the book a lot, but as the story progressed, I realised that I was reading a re-telling of the story of how Andrei Chikatilo came to be caught - a story that had ALREADY been brilliantly depicted in the film "Citizen X" (which I highly recommend). This gave rise to puzzlement, and increasing dissatisfaction. The REAL story is a gripping one, with a REAL hero... so WHY change it? Does it "work" better than the true story, simply because the author has moved the action back to a point 30 years earlier in time? No, I don't think it does. Andrei Chikatilo got caught - in real life - mainly as a result of two things: the doggedness of the pursuit conducted by the Militia (in defiance of the Party) and the Communist party's slow loss of control over the country, which finally allowed the Militia to deploy the resources they needed. Changing the story is a slap in the face to the REAL militiaman, who simply gets airbrushed out of the story like an enemy of the state during Stalin's era. It's a "Good" story only if you're not already familiar with the TRUE story, and are therefore unable to draw comparisons. Tom Rob Smith has added a couple of totally implausible "plot twists" which (in my view) detract from the story. If I could go back in time, and offer Mr Smith some advice, it would be to tear up his manuscript, keep the IDEAS in it, and use his knowledge of the period in question to write an ORIGINAL story; one that doesn't plagiarize a true story quite so pointlessly. There are plenty of stories crying out to be written to which his undoubted abilities would be better suited. And my advice to anyone else would be to buy or rent a copy of "Citizen X", and discover what REALLY happened; it's available from Amazon!