Friday, May 27, 2011

Book Review: The Dangerous Edge of Things by Tina Whittle

I picked this one up at the library because of the blurb on its cover:  Kirkus Reviews said, "If you're wondering who can give Stephanie Plum a run for her money, meet Tai Randolph."  I love me some Stephanie Plum, so I grabbed it and ran.

The blurbs on the back cover are equally encouraging:

  • more from Kirkus: "Tai's next adventure can't come soon enough. She's adorable."
  • Publishers Weekly: "Mystery fans will welcome wisecracking characters that aren't trite and a twisting plot that isn't tired."
  • Gerrie Ferris Finger, author of The End Game: "Her prose is excellent, her dialogue crisp and realistic, and the plotline never wavers. A ripping good story with a gutsy heroine."

Unfortunately, I spent most of my time reading this book scratching my head and wondering if I was reading the same book these people were.  I wanted to like it.  The reviewers liked it.  What the hell's wrong with me that I spent most of the book confused and waiting for it to be remotely like an Evanovich book?  (It's not.  That might have been a bad marketing call.)

Here's the lay of the land:  Gun shop owner Tai Randolph gets sucked into a mystery when a dead body is discovered near her brother's home.  Her brother is out of the country and she's stuck talking to the cops and dealing with the mess.  There is also a private security firm investigating the murder thanks to some sort of connection with her brother (at first, Tai is unaware her brother works for this firm).  A mysterious man named Trey Seaver is her point of contact with this firm.  Trey has been mentally damaged by an auto accident, leaving him a shell of the person he was (personality-wise) before the accident.  He's brusque, precise, and trying to recreate himself based on a lifestyle magazine because he doesn't know who he used to be.

Let's start with the good points.  By the end of the book, the love story had taken hold firmly enough for me to root for Tai and Trey.  Instead of coming off as a gimmick, Trey's life challenges seem real and tragic.  I empathized with him, and the image of the Italian fashion magazine tucked in his desk drawer stayed with me.  Also, Tai's gay best friend, Rico, is kinda funny.

Now let's get to the not-so-good points.  I spent most of this book being confused.  What the other reviewers call "plot twists," I call "stuff that confuses me."  I felt like the characters needed firmer introductions, with it being more clearly stated who knows whom and how.  I kept getting the feeling that I was at a party and everyone knew each other but me.  Then, they stood around and told stories about times I wasn't there.  It's a very frustrating feeling.

Also, for a civilian, Tai seemed eager to call herself  a "girl detective."  When the cops and a private security company are already on the job, why would anyone throw herself into the mix so eagerly, unless being a girl detective is already a stated ambition?  For Tai, it is not.  I just kept wondering, am I missing something?  Was it her lifelong goal to be a "girl detective"?  In many such novels, the heroine is forced into the detective role by physical threats to her life.  The physical threats here were minimal and happened halfway through the book, after Tai had already thrust herself into the detective role.  I just found myself lost as to why she'd do it in the first place.  I think what this boils down to is motivation.  It's very secret here.  The private security company, the political couple at the heart of it all, the stripper, etc...I finished reading this two nights ago and I'm still puzzled how it all fits together and what their motivations are.

I had a strangely clinical vibe as I read this book.  Sharp and confident and competent, yes.  Engaging? No.  It's missing that spark, that sense of humor or empathy that really makes you sit up and take notice of the characters.  It might be because Tai reveals very few of her emotions.  It might be because I was too confused to let any deeper emotion (like empathy) sink in.

Let's cut to a bit of dialogue that might illustrate my point.  When someone slips Tai a printed bullseye with her photo in the middle (the second one she's received), she tells the cops and then Trey, her partner/bodyguard at the private security company.  Here's what ensues:

I exited Dylan's blog.  "Did Garrity tell you about the target with my picture in the middle?"
"He did."
"Did he tell you it wasn't the first time?"
Trey nodded.  "He thinks someone is threatening you."
"Or trying to scare me, I don't know which."
"Why would someone do that?"
"Your guess is as good as mine.  But I'd say it's because I'm getting close to something somebody doesn't want me close to." 

Three comments here:

  1. "He thinks someone is threatening you."  That's a pretty obvious response on Trey's part.  Is that really what his sharp, incisive, clinical mind would have answered with?  Is it really necessary for a character to clarify that a bullseye with someone's face on it is a threat? It's like saying ice cream is cold or water is wet.
  2. I've read these lines hundreds of times before.  These lines read as unoriginal.  There needs to be something spicier, something layered, something more to them.
  3. Again, back to the clinical feel.  Does this dialogue move the plot along? Yes.  Does it get the job done? Yes.  Does it make me ignore the siren call of the Mad Men disc from Netflix sitting on my counter? No.
I realize I've gone one for quite some time here.  I didn't mean for this to be such a long piece.  I guess I'm just trying to work out my own frustration at feeling like I just didn't get it.  Kirkus, Publishers Weekly...these are the big guns.  If they loved it, why didn't I?  What did I miss?  I just didn't see what they saw.  My apologies to Tina Whittle, because she's obviously earning a great deal of praise for this book.  I mean no disrespect.  As a reader, I'm just struggling to make sense of something that, in the end, didn't.