Monday, February 2, 2015

Hades by Candice Fox

Title: Hades
Author: Candice Fox
Publisher: Kensington Books
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

I have to say I wasn't too thrilled with the Kindle advance review copy of this novel. It wasn't even remotely correctly formatted for the Kindle. The page headers - such as the author's name and the novel title - appeared in the middle of the text because they weren't removed when the text was converted for the Kindle. In addition to that, there were random gaps and new lines in the text, mid-word and mid-sentence. The Adobe Digital Editions and the iPad versions seemed fine.

I know this was an ARC, and so not everything can be perfect, but frankly in this age of e-publishing, there really isn't any excuse for formatting issues of this nature. Hopefully this will not be the status of this novel in the final version. There were also one or two grammatical and similar issues which were a bit more understandable if regrettable, such as at location 547 (sorry, no page numbers in the Kindle - I don't know how much use a location number actually is (especially if you're not reading the ebook!), but the phrase was "cold, calculated businessman" and it really should have been something like "coldly calculating businessman" to make any sense. Unless, of course, they were talking about the corpse of a businessman which they'd designed, in which case it could well have been cold and calculated...!

This novel is really Dexter does Australia (it pretty much says so right on the cover). It's a first person PoV novel, which I normally rail against, but which in this case was one of the rare few which was not nauseating for that reason. It was told in an interesting way, because the narrator is not the main character. He's a cop who is telling the story, and it’s mostly about his interactions with an observations of his new partner, a seasoned cop by the name of Eden. She's a respected, tough and experienced cop who works on the force with her brother, Eric, but with whom she's never partnered for various reasons.

Frank, the narrator, is teamed with her after his own partner kills himself. Eden's partner was killed in the line of duty, we're told. Eden's brother Eric doesn’t take to Frank, looking through his personal stuff and generally irritating him as well as blabbing Frank's secrets (his drug use, his one-time punching of his ex wife, his DWI on his way to work. Despite all these violations, Frank is inexplicably still on the force. He and Eden get along, although she's made it clear she's not interested in becoming bosom buddies with him.

The two are thrown into a serial murder investigation immediately, with a score of bodies having been found after they had been dumped into the ocean in metal boxes. The most outstanding thing about he bodies is that various assorted organs have been surgically removed, so it looks like someone is harvesting the organs for wealthy (and none too picky) clients. The curious thing about this book is that, interspersed with these chapters, is an italicized insert here and there, talking about a character called Hades, who finds two lost and injured children whom he raises as his own despite not legally being entitled to do so. How that fits into the story isn't immediately clear, but when we learn that the children are named Eden and Eric, things start becoming more clear - or do they?

I have to interject a complaint here, and if you follow my reviews you knew this was coming! It concerns wasted trees. In an ebook, which is what I read in this case, this isn't a problem (although a larger file size does mean more energy is required to transmit and maintain it), but if a book goes to a print run, then the more white space you have on your page, the more trees are going to die in order to feed your book. It’s not a smart move to be contributing to bringing down trees en masse in an era of all-but-runaway climate change.

I'm not suggesting that writers and publishers cram every square millimeter of white space with text by any means, but as you can see from the sample image on my blog, the chapter title page is about 85% white space and the regular pages are not much better. At first I thought this was an issue only when viewed as an ebook or in Adobe Digital Editions, but when I took advantage of the "look inside" feature on-line, it appeared to be exactly the same, so I have no reason to believe the print book will be any different. I understand that there are aesthetic, practical, and artistic considerations in play here, I do. All I ask is that writers and publishers not forget the big picture. Every one of us can make a difference.

That said, I started out linking this book, but soon found that the shifting perspectives became irritating at first and then outright annoying before very long. This is the problem with limiting yourself by employing first person PoV. It’s not a voice that you should use unless you really know what you want to do with it, and it failed sadly in this instance. The severe handicap of 1PoV is that you can't show anything that's not directly witnessed by the narrator, which is an awful limitation to impose upon your story telling unless you really have a first class, iron-clad reason for it - and most authors do not.

If you've stuck yourself with this limitation and then discover that you haven't planned too-well and need to add a larger perspective, you're stuck with a clunky info-dump from a third party, or you have to go the even more clunky route of adding third person narration. This latter is what happened here, and it didn’t work. We kept having third person flashbacks to Eric and Eden's childhood, which proved to be a major spoiler, and then this was interleaved with the main narrator's first person, and with third person from the perspective of more than one other character! This made the novel seem badly organized and cluttered, and it really detracted from the story for me.

On top of that, the story was too dissipated, with focus being repeatedly dragged away from the case to the first person narrator's stalker-ish obsession with his new partner which was sick at best. The narrator wasn't a nice person which made me suspicious of his veracity to begin with, which in turn certainly did not help me to either like or trust this story. I can see why the author did it (can you say sequels?!), but the problem was that this was telegraphed, and this meant that there really was no mystery or intrigue here.

The narrator, and his interaction with Eden made the narrator seem like a lowlife to me, and he wasn't too smart, either. I had neither empathy for, nor interest in, him. I didn’t like Eric because he was just scum from the start: a caricature with villain garishly painted all over him, and I didn’t like Eden because although she was rather intriguing at first, she never grew and was never developed. She was more like a symbol, and not even a sex symbol, so what was she? What’s to keep me interested in a story where neither of the two main characters is remotely appealing?!

Almost worse than that, we'd get a bit of a cliff-hanger in the murder investigation at the end of a chapter, but then have to wait a chapter or two while the narrative wandered off to someone else's viewpoint before we could get back to the story which I was interested in! I found myself becoming more and more annoyed, and then skipping the dead zones, which in turn meant I wasn't always getting the whole story (although frankly I wasn't evidently missing much). By this time I already knew where this was going and had done for a while, so there really were no surprises in store and at about 90%, I just gave up on it. I'd lost all interest in it and really didn’t care exactly how it ended. I have no interest in being made to work this hard to get a good story out of a novel!

I can’t honestly recommend this one. The idea isn't exactly fresh, and the execution left a lot to be desired. Also, I really like trees and hate to see them so badly used! I think this author has a future, but not with this novel.