Rating: If you’re so inclined, or you shouldn’t
I love thrillers and police procedurals. So much. Law and Order is a staple in my life – feeling anxious? watch the predictable unfolding of 44 minutes. With Andrew Pyper’s *Lost Girls” (see a few posts ago for his Demonologist) I wanted to be swept up and riveted by the book. The back cover made me hopeful. The early chapters even more so. But, like the Demonologist, the premise and the opening salvo left so much to be desired.
In reading the acknowledgements (aside: I *love* the acknowledgements in novels. I wish they were longer – see Dave Eggers’ acknowledgements in AHWOSG for a good model – just kidding, but not really) I noticed that Pyper had previously published sections of the novel in journals. I suspect (because the book makes me a detective?) that the few chapters at the beginning – briefly returned later in the novel – focused on the young kids at the lake was a brilliantly written and published short story. But the rest of the novel that tries to take this exceptional opening premise and extend it is just… not good.
The suspense isn’t suspenseful. I don’t care about our protagonist. I don’t believe his fear. Even if I did, I don’t care whether he’s scared. The unbelievable elements – ghost woman at the lake who steals children – is introduced as a ghost story within the narrative, not as something compelling or real in her own right. As a result the story-within-a-story that lacks the thematic depth that you might expect from a story-within-a-story and instead serves a simple plot purpose: to introduce the complicating “ghostly” element of the murder mystery. It’s a weak way to introduce this element and that the rest of the plot is premised on this weak element means that well… the rest of the plot is similarly shoddy.
So no, I won’t read anymore Andrew Pyper. Even if all the Canadian presses keep telling me he’s all that. I get it. He’s got some great components, and I’m guessing he’s a brilliant short story writer. But going 0-2 makes me less willing to climb on board again.
I’m generally wary of self-described “literary” texts. It feels like a bit of a pre-emptive strike or (to mix analogies) like arrogance masking insecurity to claim “this is a literary thriller.” All the same, this is getting close to a literary thriller (note I said *close*).
There’s certainly the pacing and plot of a thriller: Kidnappings, women in fashionable suits, private jets and fancy hotel rooms, hitmen and demons Not surprising the acknowledgements of the book point out that this book is being turned into a movie. And this is one of my complaints with the plot: it reads like it wants – desperately – to be turned into a movie. Forget spending time examining the thoughts and beliefs of any one character – or how they might change! – we! have! plot! to! consider! It is a gripping plot, though. I made it through the book in two days and wanted, very much, to be reading it.
I do have other complaints though – are these outweighed by the compelling plot? hard to say. I was okay with the demons and the parallels with the Da Vinci Code (mostly because this was much better written). I was less okay with the various explanations for why our narrator was beset with demons. The novel suggests that demons are all around us, and those suffering from depression may be more likely or more able to “see” these demons. Okay. I’ll accept. But then the novel trots out – almost on a chapterly basis – different hypotheses for why the demons have decided to wreak havoc with David’s life. Not that I’m not interested in the theories, but that each one was presented as “the” reason, so I’d try to absorb that reason and make it fit with the bizzare plot elements only to have “the” reason change a chapter later. It made character motivation and action hard to believe and it made subsequent “reasons” for the demons feel like they were created to suit the particular plot point.
That is to say, the plot was so overpowering that everything else – including reasons for plot points – had to be subsumed to the whim of plot.
So there’s no real character development – David doesn’t come to understand his father, brother, lover, wife, daughter or self any differently than he did before, now he just accepts demons exist because they showed up and ate his face (not really) – no sense of setting (they drive across the continent and it reads like a movie script describing them in a car rather than the setting having any meaningful relationship to the story). No real thematic or moral question, except perhaps “what would you do for a demon?”
So yeah. “Literary” if you take literary in the sense that the writing wasn’t terrible – there were some okay descriptions and useful figurative language. And for all those complaints, still undeniably readable. LIke gobble it up readable. I might even read Pyper’s other – more famous – “Lost Girls” if only to see if the idea of “literary thriller” exists or if my bias against the genre outweighs any strength in the writing,