Book review: Acts of Violence by Ryan David Jahn

Jahn Acts of Violence by Ryan David Jahn
(Macmillan New Writers, 2009)

This novel is on the shortlist for the John Creasey (New Blood) dagger award for 2010. By coincidence I read the book recently so have prioritised a review.

Acts of Violence is inspired by a murder case in the 1960s, in which none of 38 witnesses who saw a woman being attacked did anything to help. In this novel, the woman becomes Katrina Marino, who is leaving her work as a waitress in a diner very late one night. Her car almost doesn’t start but eventually does. She drives home, just failing to see an accident that happens seconds after she drives through a road junction. When she gets home, she’s attacked in the yard outside her house. Several of her neighbours in the apartment block see or hear her cries. This novel is about them and what they did that night, as well as about Katrina herself.

The plotting is very clever, as events during this long night are told from different characters’ points of view at different times, as people go about their legal or illegal business, or have crises in their domestic lives. Gradually, a complete picture of the night builds up, and the intersections between people’s lives and motivations become clear.

Although the novel is well-written and assured in its pacing and plot — the character of Katrina in particular portrayed with warmth and pity — I did not like it. I just could not bear to read about everyone’s actions and concerns while a woman lay dying. The style of the novel reminds me of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, another book that I didn’t like while at the same time appreciating that it was well-written and sincere. I think that Acts of Violence is also a sincere book, and has a moral message, but it isn’t a book that I enjoyed reading one tiny bit. On the back cover, the novel is said to be sure to appeal to fans of Bret Easton Ellis, a writer whose books I have no interest in reading, and the style to Quentin Tarantino, whose films I have (deliberately) never seen. So, I conclude that this style and subject is simply not for me, but these comparisons may help others to decide whether or not to read this book.

I thank Karen of Euro Crime for my copy of this novel.

Other books on the New Blood dagger shortlist are Rupture by Simon Lelic; The Pull of the Moon by Diane Janes; and The Holy Thief by William Ryan. The winner will be announced on 8 October 2010.

Other reviews of Acts of Violence can be found at: It's a Crime! (very positive); The Observer (brief); The Book Bag (positive); International Thriller Writers (brief).



5 thoughts on “Book review: Acts of Violence by Ryan David Jahn

  1. Maxine – Thank you for your thoughtful and candid review of this book. I know exactly what you mean about a book that may be well-written and, as you say, sincere, but at the same time, one doesn’t like it. I’ve read books like that, too. I confess I haven’t read this one, but from your description and other things I’ve read about it, I think I would probably agree with you…

  2. Thanks for your honest description of the book. I remember that horrible incident well; at the time lived not far from where it happened and we all were affected by it.
    I don’t think I want to relive it so will not read it. It holds no fascination for me. And, in general, I don’t like reading books like this.

  3. Once again you have taken one for the team for which I am truly grateful. I did have this on my wishlist though I admit I was put off from buying it when I saw the Easton Ellis comparison (I have only read one of his books but was seriously underwhelmed). I know book blurbs are often untrue but I had a feeling that one might turn out to be accurate. It sounds a bit like THE SLAP which is an Aussie book (non-crime fiction) gaining much fame now for being on the Booker longlist – it’s about a suburban bbq at which an adult slaps someone else’s child and the whole thing is about the different people who saw the event and why they reacted the way they did (or didn’t). Personally I found it self-indulgent BS but clearly I am (once again) in the minority. Anway thanks for the review, that’s one I can definitely scratch off the wishlist.

  4. Such a relief to read this review Maxine! I really thought I was the only person who did not enjoy this book. I remember thinking (after reading it) how seriously underwhelmed by it I was.

  5. I thought this book was crap pretty soon from the beginning, hoping the real story would eventually begin, but finally starting to realize this wouldn´t happen.

    Personally I don´t think it´s that well written. The book reminded me of school essays written by eager students, who think they know how to play with words smartly and interestingly, forgetting it´s the contents that counts. Or should count. I´m not saying I wasn´t just like that… 😉 But neither am I saying I have what it takes to be a writer 😀

    But more importantly it´s the contents that bothered me. I really looked forward to reading the book, expecting the writer would deal with the selfishness and evil of the human nature etc. Yes, a little of that was covered too, but indeed just a little and extremely superficially. Instead the writer seemed more than happy to describe at great length how during the murder one man has sex for the first time with another man, a couple has sex with another couple for the first time, another man admits cheating on his wife (do I see a pattern of certain evens here??), some attempts of killings are made and so on.

    I find it appalling to abuse such a tragedy by focusing on, well, those kind of things. Normally I wouldn´t even think about writing a review for a book – good or bad – but I was so disgusted by the way the writer dealt with such a shocking event that I threw it away right after finishing. I don´t want to read it again, I don´t want anyone else to read my copy either and if this review prevents someone else from reading it, who as I thought the subject of the book to be worthwhile reading, I´m happy I took the time.

Comments are closed.