Saturday, December 5, 2009

Book Review: The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly

the scarecrow by michael connellyWhen a skilled writer gets lazy, the result is a novel like The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly.

When you have built up a solid fan base and are guaranteed a fat payoff for every book you are commissioned to write, it must be tempting to churn out a top-of-the-head, subpar effort that is full of clichés.

The plot is basic here. A sexual deviant, who also happens to be a skilled hacker, butchers women and frames up other people using his computer skills. Planted evidence on other people's computers, and hacked e-mail and credit card accounts are some of the tricks he uses. A journalist, Jack McEvoy, becomes a major part of the story after he and a new reporter discover that the suspects taking the fall for these crimes are innocent.

In the first sign of pure laziness on the part of the writer, we have that at-first omnipotent bad guy, who can do absolutely anything to anyone because of his computer hacking skills. But we are never told how he does all these things. A criminal hacking into e-mail and credit card accounts, planting evidence on other people's computers, and accessing other personal information stored online is, of course, plausible. But at least give us a semblance of an explanation as to how this is being done. Here there is nothing of the sort.

No Character Development


The major problem with this book is that the characters are paper-thin. As a reader, you give not a damn about what happens to them, because you have absolutely no sense of who they are. There is no character development, of either the good guys or the bad guys.

Oh wait, there is a few paragraphs-long, laugh-out-loud bit of tripe that is supposed to inform us about why the central creep does the things he does. Pure, well-used cliché here—the individual's mother was a stripper. Take a wild guess what the result is—yep, he hates women and starts butchering them.

Books with a serial killer of some sort always hinge on the fact that everything the killer does has a significant meaning which then allows the cops (or journalists) to cleverly figure everything out due to the references that the killer drops along the way. As if the killer really wants this to be a cat and mouse game, and/or wants to give the cops a legitimate chance to find him. This is something that readers of crime fiction put up with to a degree. But when there are so many other weaknesses in a novel, this kind of boiler-plate becomes even more annoying.

Tells


Connelly is either aware of the third-rate book he is offering up to his readers, or he subconsciously lets on through the words spoken by the characters. There are numerous "tells" in the book in which the characters try to head off the inevitable reactions that readers will have.

"It was strange, sometimes, how life worked out." Strange too how a line like that will make an implausible plot twist easier for readers to swallow.

"She said it so matter-of-factly. There was probably nothing in this world that surprised her or horrified her any longer." The flat, meaningless reaction of this character to the discovery of a corpse just doesn't wash. That's what happens when characters aren't developed. The things they say sound strangely inappropriate and unbelievable.

In the section that attempts to give the killer some back-story: "He wondered what had made him go down the hallway to look. He knew the answer was tangled down deep in his darkest roots. In a place no one could go." And in a place that no reader will go, because there is no reasonable insight into his personal history or psyche, and hence no understanding about why he turned into a killer.

"I didn't know exactly where I was going but I drove with subconscious purpose, as though the hands on the wheel and the foot on the pedal knew what my brain didn't" I.e., a meandering, unfocused arc to the book that indicates a lack of planning.

"This doesn't sound like a plan, Jack. It sounds like you're making it up as you go along."
Bingo.

Other Weaknesses


A huge hole in the plot appears as the two main characters, McEvoy and his FBI agent girlfriend Rachel Walling, head to the organization where the killer works. At this point in the book, the story about the serial killer has received huge publicity, with McEvoy's name part of the story, his face on CNN etc. Yet they blunder in to the office and use their real names.

Another major absurdity involves the FBI agent first being fired and then reinstated.

Another failing, and what brings so many books down, is the lack of resistance that is developed in various situations. Things just happen without the requisite opposition from situations or characters.

And in another crime novel cliché, there is the false ending, where the journalist and cop believe that the case is wrapped up but the real killer is still on the loose. As a reader, it is unlikely you will care at this point.

The book isn't a total write-off: there are some reasonably interesting passages. However, these sections involve McEvoy and Walling discussing the case and telegraphing the main plot twists. Another sign of a weak novel.

Are there any themes at play in this novel? I doubt it. And even if there were, they wouldn't salvage this substandard effort.

There is no flesh on the bones of The Scarecrow. Save yourself some time, and give this book a miss.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for that, definitely his weakest book to date

    ReplyDelete