A book not for me, but liked by others

This is a hard post to write. I recently read or received two very enthusiastic reports of a novel from bloggers whose reviews and posts I enjoy very much – Material Witness and Random Jottings. The book? American Devil, a debut thriller by Oliver Stark. A bit carried away by such praise, but only skimming the reviews because I like to read novels without knowing the plots beforehand,  I contacted the publisher, Headline, to see if a copy was available. One was, and was very kindly sent to me. 

Here's my dilemma – I did not like the book. I stopped reading it 100 pages in, disgusted by four descriptions of murders of blonde,blue-eyed young women, and the post-mortem atrocities done to them. I really did not want to read any more from the point of view of the murderer: his sadistic impulses and his compulsive need to collect a different body part from each of his victims.The damaged cop who is the only man who can solve the case is an over-the-top cliche but at least bearable. However, when he is sent to see a psychologist for his anger-management issues and the psychologist turns out to be a blonde, blue-eyed young woman – well the next 400 pages loomed ahead of me like an insurmountable obstacle of boredom, as I could guess right there that we'd end up with the evil villain (who will turn out to have a 
Devilsubterranean lair and a stuck-together set of body parts, and have a split personality) kidnapping and torturing her, etc. (I didn't read on to find out if I was right, as I don't actually care whether I am or not.)

Obviously my views are not widely shared, but I just do not like reading books about psychotic killers who are so clever that they can evade detection so the reader can be "entertained" with descriptions of inventive, grisly murders of a set of people who aren't even characters, but who are introduced purely for the sake of being murdered or of having their body defiled. This is just not for me. 

It is my policy not to review books that I don't like, as I don't see the point. However, on this occasion the book was very kindly sent to me by the publisher, so I feel some sense of obligation to write about it. (I shan't be asking publishers for review copies again without finding out more about the book concerned first.) Quite a dilemma, as I don't want to be rude but I also can't lie in a review. 

So, the best I can do is to quote from some of the publicity material for the book (unread by me before embarking on the book): "A brilliant debut thriller from new British talent Oliver Stark. The American Devil is stalking New York's streets. Detective Tom Harper, one of the NYPD's star homicide detectives, is on the verge of losing his shield for striking a superior officer, when the city is left reeling by a series of brutal murders. Young socialites are being targeted by one of the most gruesome killers New York has ever seen and the top brass know that Harper is the only detective who has a chance of stopping the newly dubbed "American Devil" before he can strike again. With Harper already living on the edge, they [sic] have no choice but to appoint psychologist, and new profiler, Denise Levene, to oversee his return. Harper swiftly realises that Denise's professional expertise is invaluable to his investigation and their relationship changes as they begin to work together to find the killer."

Positive reviews of this book are at Material Witness and Random Jottings.

Author website. 

Publisher website.


10 thoughts on “A book not for me, but liked by others

  1. Maxine – Thank you for your honest comments about this book. I will definitely not be reading it. It must, indeed, be a dilemma when you are faced with a situation such as this, but I think you resolved it most gracefully : ).

  2. I agree with Margot, in my opinion you are both honest and fair. And I think most publishers and writers accept that there are several subgenres of crime fiction so while some readers love cozy mysteries, others prefer dark thrillers. I don´t like finding myself inside the mind of a gruesome killer either, and this one sounds a bit like Val McDermid´s Hill & Jordan series which I gave up years ago.

  3. Well done, Maxine for giving an honest opinion and chucking the book. Violent difficult cop with problems chasing psychotic serial killer with a fetish for young wealthy blue eyed blondes. Um….. I think I gave up watching Luther because of that plot.

  4. When a publisher sends a book to a reviewer, they ought not to expect a favorable review, and probably they did not send it with any strings attached. I wouldn’t feel one bit conflicted about this, Maxine. The only time I really get upset with a reviewer panning a book is when he or she insists that everyone who disagrees with him or her is a taste-deprived philistine with a brain the size of a pea. That gets up my nose – but responding honestly to a book and saying why it didn’t work for the reviewer is totally a reviewer’s prerogative, and in fact NOT saying what you think would be a far more dodgy position for an ethical reviewer to be in. And anyone who disagrees with me has a brain the size of a … oh, never mind.

  5. Thanks, everyone – it was a tough call. First I thought I would not post at all, then I felt bad about that, as I did ask the publisher for the book (which I don’t often do). Luckily the one I read next was the opposite experience!

  6. UGH, exactly the kind of book I won’t read. I love mysteries and thrillers but feel NO need to read graphic descriptions of violence — almost always perpetuated against young and beautiful women or, even worse, children — and I wouldn’t have finished it, either.

  7. Right on, Maxine! You stood up and took a stand against this type of gruesome, gratuitous violence perpetrated against women that so many of us, especially women, cannot stand and, in fact, despite. Good for you. Maybe soon publishers will heed the cry of many readers who disavow this type of book. And maybe they’ll stop using the covers depicting mutilated women and editors will refuse to work on them and artists will refuse to paint them. You took a stand! Hopefully, others will follow.

  8. I’m sure the publishers will see that you gave it a decent shot and they shouldn’t expect more than that. You’ve explained quite clearly what you didn’t like and didn’t make any personal attacks on the author or people who do like to read this kind of thing so there’s nothing wrong with what you’ve written and plenty right because it will stop people like me from making the same mistake with the book (it’s actually in my book depository wishlist but will be coming out immediately).
    You raise a couple of interesting points too – like you I prefer not to read too many reviews or blurbs before reading a book as often entire plots are given away and where’s the fun in that? But avoiding those things means you can take a mis-step in selecting a book as it turns out to be something other than what you thought it would be. Of course sometimes this is a pleasant surprise but sometimes…it’s just icky.
    As for the violence I think you’ve hit the nail on the head for me – I can deal with a certain amount of violence when the victims are treated as real people and are proper characters that someone cares about but when they are just objects to be hacked up and defiled I am not interested.

  9. Thank you, all. It seems that those who have kindly commented here, at least, are in agreement.
    I just wanted to add that this book wasn’t particularly gratuitous (or at least, the bit I read). As with a lot of these “Silence of the Lambs” type novels, much of the ghastliness is left to the imagination. However, enough events were explicitly described that I felt ill. Mainly what turns me off is reading from the point of view of some lunatic who is salivating over what he is going to do, and although the actual description of removing the body parts is not told too explicitly, or the act of cutting 1000s of cuts on someone before they die is described after the death rather than while the murderer is doing it, they are just not details that need to be repeated over and over again (with variants) for several deaths – for readers’ “entertainment”.
    I’m not particularly squeamish, for example the death in “Water Blue Eyes” is very violent and described precisely, but is not dwelt on or “salivated over”, it is acknowledged by the police who discover the body and then factored into their investigation. There is no sense of “violence and sadism porn” as I am afraid, as a reader, I felt there was in the book I did not finish here.

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