Top critical review
54 people found this helpful
just #30 -- and the white space is back
on October 25, 2012
This is the 30th Sharon McCone novel, and I have the horrid suspicion that this is how Marcia Muller thought of it: gotta go work on #30; #30 is going OK; just got the jacket art for #30 . . . .
It's formulaic, something Muller has never been.
In my 5-star review of COMING BACK I say that I've grown up and grown old with the daughters of Sisters in Crime, following Muller and McCone since 1977, when I was mid-20s. So I see Sharon as a contemporary, and maybe that's the problem. I should remind myself of that great tag-line from The Godfather: It's not personal; it's business.
Writing is a business, and I realize that. But the author and press shouldn't rub the reader's nose in it. My only quibble about COMING BACK was the excessive number of blank pages -- nearly 20% of the 292 pages are empty. This is a cheat for the reader, who buys a slim book only to discover it's an anorexic book. And, while this is less obvious on Kindle, the book ends just as quickly.
In CITY OF WHISPERS, the first Muller book that's failed to impress me, the white space disappeared. Cool! But so did much of the character development and the logic of the historical plot lines.
Here we have, almost, the worst of both worlds. There are 15 chapters, each prefaced with front-and-back blank pages, the right-hand (recto) page having the day and date on it. But that information could just as easily appear on the first page of the chapter, along with the time stamp. Could better appear. Furthermore, six chapters end on a recto page, followed by a blank verso, making for 3 empty pages between chapters. Amazon's publishing info aside, there are 293 pages between the first and last lines, and 36 of them are blank. So, fewer blanks than in COMING BACK, but still over 10%. It's wasteful, as well as misleading.
But, really folks, I'd give her all the white pages in the cosmos if Muller would play fair with Sharon McCone. Now in her 50s, Sharon is successful, loved, and still challenged by her work. Why, then, does Muller begin to make the danger personal, not professional? You can always tell when a TV series is going under, because all the plots begin to arise from the characters' personal lives, a paradigm that signals doom -- and lazy writing -- more clearly than the jumping of any number of sharks. The same is true for series novels, with the inexplicable exception of Alex Cross, who seems to have enough personal disaster to fill a library. Here, I worry, Sharon McCone is fading as a professional while becoming a professional victim. Personal disasters account for most of the plots in the last several novels. I won't do spoilers here, but much of the tension in the novel also arises from this very dangerous member of the order lamniformes.
So that's one formula, The Beloved Character in Peril [Again]. Other cardboard cut-outs casting shadows over the pristine pages are the Person-Who-Isn't-What-[s]He-Seems and, bizarrely, The Detective as Psychic. The latter is truly creepy, especially as Muller tries to make it seem like a long-standing practice of McCone's to sit in a space and pick up images and intuitions. No. And if she were suddenly so sensitive -- maybe, interestingly, from the head wound -- you'd think she would have noticed Person-Who-Isn't . . . . I did, and I am not a reader who tries to figure things out. As for the actual investigation, most of it is done by Mick online.
But, know what? I'd even give Muller the formulae if she'd just give us some more McCone. There's very little introspection here (although more than in the last two books, where the shifting point of view kept everyone's thoughts abbreviated.) And there's almost no conversation. That was always the best part! Here we get half a page with Rae, another half with Hy, a page with Ted, less with Derek, and a couple of pages for Mick's drama, although we are left hanging on that. The issue of age comes up, but isn't given much ink. The issue of change is related to age, obviously, and gets a bit more, but isn't developed either. The case in question doesn't speak much to either mini-theme, although there are whole sentences in these 257 pages where I hoped it was going to.
Interesting characters appear and disappear without a trace. The roses have disappeared, although the wine is still important, if not much discussed. Sadly, I got the feeling that everyone -- starting with Marcia Muller -- was going through the motions.
I hate this. Muller's series is a cultural landmark in crime novels. I'd rather see Sharon McCone dead than rendered superficial. In last year's review I loaned Muller a star against better days. Here I'm tempted to take it back, but -- since this is the first review -- I'll loan her another and leave it at 3.
Think of this less as a complaint than as a cri de coeur. For me it's still personal.