Sunday, 1 February 2015

Skin in the Game

Firstly, let me lay my cards on the table so to speak. As a rule I am deeply suspicious of self-publishing. I think that traditional publishers are there for a reason: to ensure that the books that reach the reading public are the best that they can be. Unfortunately, with the rise of digital platforms like Kindle, a lot of people are circumnavigating this process and sub-standard works are appearing. If I had known that Skin in the Game was self-published I would never have downloaded it. My mistake, I should have read the description more closely.

Having said all that, upon opening the book I was initially surprised. To the author's credit he has ensured the minimal of spelling/grammatical mistakes. The typo is the bane of the self-published work and the author has done an admirable job correcting any errors in his manuscript prior to publication.

That said the rest of the book is a mess. I have to confess that I got to the sixty per cent mark and simply gave up. I understand that this is a conspiracy thriller but events are so opaque as to be unreadable. Things aren't helped by some serious issues I have with the text.

The first is the layout when dialogue occurs. I simply can't tell who is supposed to be saying what during a conversation. The author writes a line of dialogue, then on the next line there is description, then the next line a line of dialogue. There simply aren't enough pointers as to who is saying what. I understand that he doesn't want to use the word "said" too often but it exists in novels for a reason, to let the reader know who is saying what in conversational to and fro.

The second issue I have with the dialogue is that the author is clearly not familiar with the adage Show, Don’t Tell. Simply put, the plot of the novel, the emotions and actions of the character should be shown, not spelt out to the reader through stilted dialogue. In Skin in the Game, the plot is most definitely spelt out to us time an again in dialogue. There are pages and pages of stilted discussion, where characters discuss the conspiracies they are involved in, their belief and motivations in mind-numbing detail. Quite apart from the fact that people involved in illegal activity won’t sit around discuss their illegal activities for long, surely co-conspirators already know each other’s motivations?

Then there are the weird movements/body language/expressions he has his characters do. Characters will be talking and then the author will write something like: ‘he tilted his head back, curled his lip and jerked away’. Or ‘She placed her palms on her eyes, slowly down her nose and lips, to her mouth.’ Quite simply half the time I have no idea what is meant by all this, or what this is meant to say about the characters. It seems strangely robotic. And characters ‘leer’ at each other. My dictionary says that leer means; ‘To look with a sideways or oblique glance, especially suggestive of lascivious interest or sly and malicious intention.’  There is one occasion when the use of the word makes sense, but when a hitman is talk to his employer in MI6? Why would he leer at him?

This brings me onto a further criticism. Part of the plot involves an MI6 torture facility, where techniques similar to those recently exposed being used by the CIA in black sites are used, complete with dodgy psychiatrists, sensory deprivation, hallucinogenic drugs etc. I know this is fiction, and I’m not for a moment suggesting that the UK’s intelligence services are whiter than white, but if you are going to write a novel based in the current political climate at least try and get some things right. There is no evidence that the British intelligence services ever did anything even close to this. They sat in on interrogations abroad, fine, but a torture facility in deepest Surrey? It stretches credulity.

Lastly, I have to take issue with the author’s choice of names for characters. There are just too many outlandish names. Cadan Blake, Bertram Mercier, Lincoln Covington, Cameron Krug. I understand that this is a novel that spans the globe, but its like the author has reached for the most outlandish names he can find. Even “ordinary” names like Sophie have the more rare spelling: Sofi. There is a Sam and a Joe, and I exempt the Arabic names from this criticism, but I found myself grating at his choice of names.

All in all this is a rough, messy novel. Much editing is needed and the author, while showing some talent, needs to work on his craft.

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