When I started The Stone Monkey last week, I wrote that it probably wasn’t for me. I was right. I gave up after 200 pages. I should have given up after 75, which was where I worked out what was happening.
To be fair, when I turned to the back of the book I read about a greater conspiracy, which might have been interesting, but I can’t keep going with a crime novel in which the main detective doesn’t ask a question that screams out to be asked and to which the answer would have resolved the case in less than an hour.
The novel was published in 2002 and is just over 500 pages long. It’s the fourth book in the series about Lincoln Rhyme, a criminologist in New York. He’s assisted by a sizeable team of law enforcement officers, none of whom thinks to ask the question that was banging around my head on page 75.
There are other things that made finishing the book less than appealing. Crime novels don’t, of course, reflect reality, but they shouldn’t stretch credulity too much. In the opening chapters, two men who aren’t sailors manage to guide rubber dinghies safely to shore through stormy seas. A few pages further on, the sides of a commercial van are repainted in a rainstorm so well that they fool a policeman who’s looking out for the van and who has a good idea of what the driver looks like. To stretch credulity even further, the men who do the painting are not familiar with English script. There are other examples, but these will do.
There are many information dumps and they’re not even disguised as conversations or reports to one of the characters. The flow of the story is interrupted at one point by a potted history of Chinese dialects and at another by a description of the geography of the region of China near Hong Kong. Good writers can feed this sort of thing into the narrative without the reader noticing that they’re being given information.
Even fans of Jeffery Deaver have complained about the way he writes dialogue. The secondary characters have very strange patterns of speech, presumably in an attempt to differentiate them or to reflect the different parts of the US they’re from. It’s something else that takes me away from the story and reminds me that I’m reading a book.
You might think it rather cheeky of me to review a book I didn’t finish, but I did read 200 pages and that’s the length of many novels.