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Caged: A Novel Hardcover – July 10, 2018
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Learn more
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"Dark and mesmerizing...channels equal parts KATHY REICHS and THOMAS HARRIS...You will read till the bitter end...then sleep with the lights on!"
--Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author
"CAGED is a pulse-pounding twisted thrill ride that will keep readers guessing - and plotting revenge - right up to its satisfying conclusion."
--Chelsea Cain, New York Times bestselling author
"I started and couldn't stop."
--F. Paul Wilson, New York Times bestselling author
"Pathologically twisted...A good choice for fans of Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs. "
About the Author
Ellison Cooper has a Ph.D. in anthropology from UCLA, with a background in archaeology, cultural neuroscience, ancient religion, colonialism, and human rights. She has conducted fieldwork in Central America, West Africa, Micronesia, and Western Europe. She has worked as a murder investigator in Washington DC, and is a certified K9 Search and Rescue Federal Disaster Worker. She now lives in the Bay Area with her husband and son.
Ellison is the author of Caged.
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I was reminded more strongly of Sue Grafton or perhaps the television series Covert Affairs. If the author tossed in some humor and interesting secondary characters, and worked on her dialog, she might have a pretty good modern hardboiled mystery instead of a bad dark thriller.
The book has a satisfying twisting plot, and is written in the style that the reader is always one step ahead of the investigator, but can't see the whole picture until the last clue is dropped. However despite the horrendous violence, there is no real tension. The author's action scenes are wooden, she seems more interested in chronicling the details of her heroine's emotional over-reactions than maintaining the taut plot movement necessary for a thriller. There are many clever details, but they are too clumsily planted, as are the clues.
I get the impression that the author is writing based on things she has seen on television rather than experienced first-hand. The characters, jargon and procedures mimic popular crime shows and there is never any sense of place. Characters seem to travel long distances in improbably short times--especially during DC rush hours. There is very little description, and none that gives realism to any of the places.
Another problem is the ending. Instead of a climax and resolution, there is a drawn out sequence of partial explanations, most of which defy sense. There are many loose ends, some apparently unintentional, but others clearly in place for sequels to flesh out the heroine's backstory and supplement action in future books. In my experience, trying to write a series is a bad idea for novice authors, better to get one novel right, and then think about extending it.
The novel is painfully overwritten. No one ever has a normal reaction, expressed in direct prose. When the heroine realizes she has not spent enough time with her five-year-old nephew she does not feel a twinge of regret or resolve to do better in the future, "Guilt stabbed a knife right into her gut, and then it wriggled around a little." Apparently the author decided that metaphor was too clear, because she immediately tells us the heroine also felt, "guilt wrapping its foul fingers around her like a ghost." Aside from the overdramatic reaction, ghosts are not known for wrapping fingers around people, and guilt is already a personification, why does it need the ghost simile as well? And are Guilt's fingers around her or the knife? Both metaphors suggest that guilt is the bad guy for hurting the heroine, not a sensible reaction to realizing she has neglected her nephew.
A less violent example is the heroine cannot have a sip of coffee, she has to "slurp coffee from her massive travel mug." This massive mug is not mentioned before or after this--in fact we are explicitly told the heroine owns only two ordinary coffee mugs. What is a "massive" travel mug anyway? Normal ones are 14 to 16 oz, and you see them up to 32 oz. Does she really drink more than a quart of coffee while riding her motorcycle? The phrase suggests the heroine is sloppy and has large appetites, but she is in fact the opposite. This is another common flaw in the book, the author shows up people doing one thing, then tells us what she wants us to think of their actions. Dialog is all clearly directed at the reader, to explain the plot, rather than realistic accounts of how people talk.
The level of science is disappointing from an author with a PhD. The heroine's hypothesis about gross physical brain abnormalities in serial killers is explained at a middle-school science level. When her tests reveal her predicted rare anomalies in 9 of 12 serial killer, she spirals into depression about how her research has failed. But the actual literature on the subject shows far more subtle statistical distinctions and multiple types of smaller abnormalities. Finding the same gross abnormalities in 9 of 12 subjects would be by far the strongest finding in the field, by a huge margin.
Another disappointment is a major plot element is problems at the FBI from faking expert testimony and lab results, to bungling investigations, to dishonest public statements, to politicization of investigations. While there are a variety of reasonable opinions about the extent and causes of these accusations, the author seems to suggest that the problem is overcritical media treatment of the Bureau and isolated evil individuals. I don't think even the staunchest Bureau defenders would accept that characterization.
For all the problems, there is some promise in this book. The heroine is original and interesting, and the plot is imaginative. I can't recommend this book, but I'd be willing to try another attempt by the same author.