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Sister Mary Murderous

Favorite genres are traditional mystery, police procedurals, espionage, Eurocrime, literary fiction and nonfiction history, especially WW2 and Cold War.  I write about crime fiction at Read Me Deadly (www.readmedeadly.com)

Just a big old mess

The Rook  - Daniel O'Malley

For quite awhile, it bothered me that I wasn't enjoying this book.  So many people loved it that I decided it must be that I don't much care for the paranormal in my reading.  Finally, though it's definitely true that I could have easily lived without the yucky descriptions of people with their viscera on the outside, killer fungus and the like, that wasn't the problem.  The problem is that the book is a big old mess.


The story is told in the first person by Myfanwy Thomas, a Rook in Britain's powerful secret paranormal intelligence service, the Chequy.  Actually, it's told by two Myfanwy Thomases, because the current Myfanwy is the one who wakes up surrounded by dead bodies wearing latex gloves, and no memory at all, including how the bodies got there and whether they were the ones who beat her up.  She soon learns that the prior resident of her body, also Myfanwy Thomas, but whom our current Myfanwy refers to as just Thomas, heard from mysterious strangers that she'd be killed by conspirators within the Chequy.  Thomas left letters and a big notebook so that Myfanwy could successfully take over the Rook position and find out who killed Thomas.


OK, so that's supposed to be the story, but it turns out it really isn't.  Instead, we have alternating narratives. One is these long, long, long info-dump excerpts from Thomas's notebook, which serve to fill us in on the history of the Chequy, its current personnel and Thomas's experiences with recent cases and colleagues.  It's pretty heavy going, as is usually the case when you get your background information in this style.


The current Myfanwy's story describes her various encounters with putting down paranormal threats (including that killer fungus thingie) and battling internal traitors who have betrayed the Chequy to the organization's centuries-old nemeses, the Grafters, who had been thought to have been wiped out long ago.  The revelation of who killed Thomas and why is left for the very end of the book, pretty much of an afterthought.


In addition to the deadly dull exposition bits of the book, the story violates a whole laundry list of other how-not-to-write-a-thriller rules.  For nearly all of the book, Myfanwy is a too-stupid-to-live heroine, in addition to being a dull-as-dishwater charisma-free young woman.  A villain commits the errors we're all familiar with from early James Bond movies.  There is a lack of pacing and no real excitement.  The characters are one-dimensional.  The execution was a waste of an intriguing concept.