Friday, September 9, 2011

A Terrible Beauty

A Terrible Beauty, by Graham Masterton

Short version of this "review":
This was a so-so (grisly, gruesome) crime novel with some elements of horror-- and a slight touch of the supernatural (maybe kinda sorta).  It wasn't exactly bad for this sort of thing, but neither was it brilliant.  I'm mostly just glad it's done so I can move on to something else.  (Once I get far enough into this sort of story, I feel I "have" to finish it so I at least will know whodunit.)

Long version, with various reactions and observations:
I started this novel under a misapprehension, which never bodes well.  I somehow got this author mixed up with another, different author (Richard Matheson), and chose this book based on the other fellow's reputation.  (Oops.  It turns out that Masterton has a reputation of his own, though, so I probably would've wanted to try something of his, anyway.  It just turns out that this is probably not his best work.)

I'll try to separate the spoilery "observations" from the non-spoilery ones.
Non-spoilery first!

  There's a glossary of "Cork Slang" at the beginning of the book, which I found somewhat intimidating at first.  I'd say you needn't bother reading through it unless you're just interested in Irish slang.  There's really not that much slang in the novel, and when it does occur, context clues are your friends.  (Or you could always flip back to the glossary as needed.) I read the glossary and found it a snoozy way to start a novel. 

  Despite the scary Glossary o' Slang, most of the dialogue isn't written in heavy dialect-- or at least it wasn't heavy in my opinion.  It was nowhere near the Judy Plum level of Irish dialect (for the benefit of other L.M. Montgomery fans). 

  It took me a little while to get into the story and accustomed to the author's writing style.  It felt somewhat journalistic, bland, and "telling, not showing", to me, but at some point I became acclimated.  (What was I reading recently that wasn't guilty of "telling, not showing"?  I'm not sure, but it felt more blatant in this work.)

•  The first real "horror moment"-- Katie's first nightmare-- seemed like someone just describing what they saw happening in a movie.  It probably would've been creepier in a movie-- the kind of scene where you feel certain you know what's coming, but you have to keep watching, anyway, knowing that at any moment something terrible's going to happen.  As it was, in print, it felt simply predictable.  (But maybe I'm just not used to reading horror...  If that's how it always is, I'll be snubbing the genre soon.)

•  Masterton seems to be almost as interested in wardrobe as Sookie / Charlaine Harris is (...are?).  I find this foible more amusing... and irritating... in a male author.  (To the gender role-obsessed among us, I say, "Whatever."  I reserve my right to be a traditionalist.)  I mean, seriously.  A little mention now and then of what someone's wearing is fine, if you think it tells us something about the character or paints a picture for the reader-- but when you're frequently stopping to describe someone's clothes, like it's the most important thing about him/her, I find it distracting.  It also lessens my opinion of you as a writer (amateur hour!) and makes me question my decision to read your work.  You like to play dress-up with your characters, like they're a bunch of Barbies or paper dolls?  Ok, fine, but don't expect me to sit through it happily.  (I've got better things to do! ;o))

•  This book reminded me of The Killing (that new/recent cable TV series) based on just a couple of things.  First, the main characters in both are strong, petite, red-haired women in law-enforcement (who just happen to be trying to solve a murder mystery).  Second, is always always always always (almost) always raining.  A lot. Apparently, it rains 99.9% of the time in both Cork and Seattle.  (Personally, I don't mind watching and/or reading about either of those things, though-- the red-haired "cop/detective" woman or the rain-- so this isn't a complaint.  Just an observation.)

•  A little heavy on the crows, there, Mr. Masterton. 

The story did seem to get better (or at least more interesting) as it went along.  Despite my complaints, it wasn't too bad, for what it was.  And what was that?  Mostly a (fairly grisly) straightforward, realistic crime novel set in modern-day Ireland... with touches of horror / the supernatural (kind of).  

•  The Travellers were an... interesting element of the story.  I've never really understood the gypsy mentality, though.  Is it the ultimate freedom, not being tied down to one place, able to pull up your stakes and move somewhere else at almost a moment's notice?  Perhaps...  But at what cost?  

•  At some point in the novel, it felt like the title should've been Everybody Loves Katie.  Come on.  Sure, she's supposed to be an attractive woman, but does (nearly) everyone have to "fancy" her?  *sigh*  That gets so old and predictable.

•   The "side stories"--  Paul and Katie's interactions, Paul and his dealings with the criminal underworld, the Irish vs. the English-- were... how shall I put this?... kind of blah.  I could've done without most of them.  I guess the main story wasn't enough for a whole novel, though, so more "stuff" had to be thrown in the fill out the book.  

So, I guess that does it for the strictly non-spoilery thoughts.  
Bring on the spoilage!!  

•  Lucy seemed suspicious right from the start.  I won't say that I guessed the whole truth about her until nearer the book's end (still pages before the, erm, "big reveal"), but I had an immediate feeling she wasn't "right".  (Ok, I'll admit that I liked her a little better during the near-drowning scene, though that feeling didn't last long.)

•  Also weird (very) was the bath scene.  It was... odd.  In the extreme.  But I'm not from California, so what do I know?  ;o)  (Seriously, Katie?  You think that's common practice in California? Okaaaay.) Then again, neither was "Lucy", I guess.  (From California, that is.) Which brings up another topic:  I guess that either the Irish can't tell the difference between Californian and Boston accents, or Lucy didn't have a strong accent.

•  Related:  Wouldn't Fiona at least have noticed that Lucy didn't have an Irish accent and immediately commented on it, as a fellow American?  (Unless Lucy was faking an Irish accent...) 

•  Nooooo!  Not the dog!  

•  I was surprised the author "let" the two girls die.  I guess after the first one, I shouldn't have been surprised when it happened again, but I was.  The torture scenes were... well, awful, of course.  I kept wishing they'd just hurry up and end-- and not always for the reasons you'd expect (i.e. such things are awful to think about).  

  When I got to the part where Gerard couldn't/wouldn't just tell Katie his big news over the phone, I had to put down the book and laugh.  Uh-oh.  The old "can't really discuss it over the phone" thing, huh?  Well, say bye-bye to Gerard, everyone, 'cause you know he's going to be making a speedy exit.  

•  How did no-one see Gerard's body sooner?  He lives in an occupied apartment building.  The police / detective / whatever-guy doesn't stop by Gerard's place until well into mid-morning, if I recall correctly, and when he finally enters the building, he hears people moving around / living upstairs and down-- and yet no-one happened to look right outside the window that day, despite the a group of crows down there, presumably causing a ruckus?  Unlikely.  

•  Plot hole:  Didn't the murderer think, while abducting Fiona, that she caught wind of "his" nefarious intentions faster than "the others"?  I seem to recall something like that-- something indicating that this wasn't his first time to kidnap a girl-- and yet this should have been "his" first victim.  It makes no sense.

•  Honestly, I was disappointed when it turned out that the murderer was just a solitary, completely mortal psycho, even if s/he was a hermaphrodite (*eye roll*).  I'd begun to hope that Callwood was still around, somehow-- through supernatural means, of course-- and that Lucy was his accomplice. 

•  For most of the novel, it felt like the story would stay more or less firmly planted in the realm of reality, despite the frequent mention of crows here, there, and everywhere.  Then (can't remember at what point) I started to think that maybe I was wrong, so I adjusted my expectations.  Then the whole thing about Callwood came to a conclusion-- he was executed and was apparently (really, truly) dead-- so I went back to my "realistic" model predictions-- only to have that very weird episode in Iollan's Wood near the conclusion.  I guess you're supposed to make your own decision regarding the supernatural elements of the story.  :o/

•  The Lusitania aspect of the story was also "blah".  After the mini history lesson at the beginning of the book, it was clear that it would be worked into the story, eventually, but when we finally learn how it fits in, it's a little of a let-down.   Just another side story that I didn't really care about, to tell the truth.