About Me

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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Characters Spend Much of the Second Chapter Blowing Chunks; So Will You!

By Mike Pettit
Publisher: MIKE PETTIT; Dec. 19, 2012
Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
English, 190 pages

Just because a carpenter is reasonably competent at swinging a hammer, you wouldn’t necessarily expect him to build a house that looks like one of the arts and crafts classics designed by Bernard Maybeck or Julia Morgan. 

A liveable house with the minimum of leaks in the roof, and doors that open and close without sticking? Maybe, yes; Possibly even a modest cottage with real charm.

But a showcase of international design?  Probably not.

On the other hand, somebody who can’t saw a straight line or hit a nail on the head more than once in five swings wouldn’t be able to do much with the most brilliant blueprint by Maybeck or Morgan.  The product of his efforts would far more likely be a tumbledown sharecropper’s dwelling than an example of arts and crafts architecture.

The same is true of writing: a competent author doesn’t necessarily have to be F. Scott Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe to keep me turning pages; all he has to do is tell a decent story without egregiously misspelling words, fluffing basic grammar or putting lame dialog in the mouths of his characters.

Unfortunately, Key West Drop by Mike Pettit manages to make all the mistakes listed above, and it does them so often and so obnoxiously that I quickly lost interest in the book’s characters, not to mention a story line involving human trafficking.  Believe me, getting me to close a book on that subject is no easy task: I have written about the topic extensively myself as an investigative reporter, and I have friends who are federal prosecutors and ICE agents who actually specialize in busting traffickers.

Key West Drop author Mike Pettit: The characters spend much of the second chapter vomiting; you will too. . . 

I counted nineteen significant errors in the first 26 pages of the book, ranging from simple typos like leaving out the apostrophes in possessives all the way to misspelling “Baghdad,” a place where the book’s hero, Jack Marsh, supposedly cut his teeth in combat as a U.S. Marine.

The dialog's not much better. Marsh and his colleague Lamont Jackson share a tortured syntax, and the only thing that makes them sound different from each other is the way Pettit occasionally slips some bit of African-American jargon into Jackson’s comments.  

Here's an example (to paraphrase Stan Mack, all dialog -- regardless of how awful -- is guaranteed verbatim):

"That's for sure, trouble is y'alls middle name. I ain't never seen two guys with such bad juu-juu. I ain't surprised y'all ain't dead."

See what I mean? Leaden -- and the last sentence actually means precisely the opposite of what the author intends to have the character say.

The narrative flow is clunked up by back story speed bumps that could have been left out or inserted more artfully elsewhere. And instead of taking the time and effort to make each character a unique individual, Pettit presents them as collections of tics who walk around, recite speeches and do things.

Even when a book is tres bad, I tend to stick it out in the hope that the author will eventually get his or her feet planted solidly and tell me a story.  In the case of Key West Drop, I literally gave up after completing only about a seventh of Pettit’s novel.  This is one of those cases where you are better off finding something else to read. I rate it only one single, lonely noose.

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