Review: Cruel Numbers
OverviewGenre: Science Fiction
Things We Liked:Quick Pacing I Lots of Imagination
Things We Hated:Flat Characters I Plot Twist
Some of my very first thoughts pertaining to this story were not positive. I thought it was about as well crafted as a better piece of fiction that I found in one of my junior level creative writing classes. There were turns of phrase that made me cringe and minute details brought in to such [...]
Some of my very first thoughts pertaining to this story were not positive. I thought it was about as well crafted as a better piece of fiction that I found in one of my junior level creative writing classes. There were turns of phrase that made me cringe and minute details brought in to such sharp relief that the author’s voice was muddled. The first chapter or so comes across as someone trying set up a complicated joke over a loud crowd in a packed bar. It just doesn’t work.
Still my attention was held. I trudged on through scattering focal points until i got to the meat of the story. Cruel Numbers, is presumably a conglomeration of favorite topics for its author, Christopher Beats. Irish, Steampunk, Noir, Thriller, Mystery, Alternate History all of these fit the descriptive bill. To Mr. Beats credit, his writing not only improves by the end of the narrative, but he controls all of these different facets to the point where you do not become overwhelmed by any one, labeling it a gimmick.
Unfortunately for Mr. Beats, his story just is not that strong.
The Gist is this:
Civil War Vet, Donovan Schist is a detective for hire. He’s given a case he simply can not refuse, and like any pioneering war vet he takes it. The job is to find a dame that, it becomes apparent very quickly, is going to be very difficult to find. Difficult in this manner of speaking means defending his life against low life thugs hired by high-end, high-profile and high-powered members of government called, The Magnocracy. As you might imagine this form of government ad hears perfectly to the power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
And we’re off!
On our tour of the world Beats has created, we get a sense of a very awkward relationship Donovan has with his lover, Moira. Don’t expect to ever see her, only hear of her through his memories, through her apparent actions, her brother’s rants, and the local parishioner’s plea for Donovan to sexually satisfy her. I’m not joking.
She becomes some sort of poetic joke. The images of her we gather and collect are never first hand, only memories of images, insinuations of sexual desire, a painful sadness. This paints a picture that these images are the most important part of the narrative. This is both good and bad. Good in a sense that the awkwardness of this relationship is what draws you through the story, wondering just what the heck is going on. Bad in that the awkwardness of this relationship, rather than the detective’s, case is what is dragging you through the story. As a matter of fact, now that all of the narrative is laid bare before me, I wonder if the story was purposely written as a mystery for the reader to ponder rather than Donovan.
That said, I quickly started to dislike him.
I can boil the main characters relationship with his significant other down to these lines:
He pines for her
He is afraid of her
He avoids her
He wants her
He hates her
She WANTS him.
In other words, typical man with a flair for the way way way over-dramatic, mirrored in part by his lover. This quickly bogs down the imagination of the world that the author seeks to put before us. Swallowing up the creative twist that puts Donovan in the belly of an ice cold mechanical whale named Jonah after chatting up an inventor about a hot air balloon shooting canon. Yeah.
Apologies, the repetition of her name is a bad joke that occurs consistently when Donovan considers his lover. It’s as though she actually takes up space in his mind and then, with the very same thought, she doesn’t, or he thinks that she shouldn’t. If that comes off as confusing, congratulations, that’s what you’ll be experiencing for the duration of the ride.
The thing about this character is that, somewhere down the line, someone will read this and think to themselves, ‘man i really get this guy’. They’ll like this character and his apparent confusion at what he wants. They’ll agree that his avoidance of responsibility and commitment to this partner that (apparently) wretches like a cat in heat for his attention, is the proper method of action. His regret being the obvious next step.
It’s a common conundrum, trash to treasure, grass is greener, blah, blah, blah.
The trick of this book wasn’t that it played one on me, it was that the twist was so unbelievable and that it happened at the very last moment. As a reader, I just didn’t care. I’ve read worse, I think most people have but that doesn’t make the story worthwhile.
I want to say that the journey is the important part in this case. I want to tell you that I read it with hope for a good reason. I want to say that the authors steadily improving voice made the narrative more interesting. I want to do a lot of things.
Sadly none of that is true.
Cruel Numbers is out 4.30.12 For something a little different that falls under the Steam-punk header, Check out a Series by Cherie Priest that starts with Boneshaker. That story completes the tone that is attempted here, with a great deal of success.