Click Here To Purchase the Kindle Edition of The Undertaker

Author: William Brown

ISBN: 9781617505119

Do you believe “bargain eBook” means “poor quality”? Think again. One of my own readers offered a counter example: in one download session, she bought ten bargain eBooks and enjoyed seven of them. Not even Derek Jeter has that kind of batting average. (You can argue that the other three were badly written, but readers’ likes are very subjective—so maybe not.) The digital revolution is a wonderful boon to readers (maybe not so much for authors), but good books like William Brown’s The Undertaker will make just as much for the author via quantity of sales as any high-priced eBook for an author published by one of the Big Six publishers (I just use this label to group some publishing conglomerates together, not in a pejorative sense). It’s why some authors (for example, Barry Eisler of thriller fame) are foregoing those Big Six contracts and publishing eBooks on their own.

The eventual steady state of the digital revolution and its effects on the publishing industry will be determined by readers, of course. Nonetheless, the times they are a-changin’, as more and more authors compete for (fewer and fewer?) readers. The number of books published each year in almost any genre just keeps increasing. Readers can only benefit in the long term. I hope Mr. Brown’s novel doesn’t get lost in the list of good books that deserve to be read. It is a thriller with enough action, intrigue, humor and romance to please the most jaded reader. I finished it in a weekend. While I read fast, this still means that I never had a dull moment. You won’t either.

The plot has some quirky twists and profound moments. Peter Talbott is a California native (origin unspecified, but I presume he’s from SoCal). His brother-in-law snaps him out of the dark place he mentally crawls into when he loses his wife Terri, offers him a job in Boston, and turns him into the standard model route 128 computer nerd whose computing skills make their bosses look good. To people unfamiliar with the Beantown area, route 128, for the most part, is just I-95 and touring on it around the city during rush hours educates you on why Boston is called the Hub: there are no spokes in and out of the city worth their salt—it’s only a hub!

While reading his own obituary, our hero finds himself at the lethal end of Gino Parini’s 45. Talbott figures it’s a mistake until Parini shows him his wife’s obituary too. Infuriated by the use of his wife’s name, Peter makes the trip to Indiana where the faux funerals take place. Here we meet the villain of the book’s title, a corrupt sheriff, a sleazy funeral director, and a crazy quack doctor who writes fake death certificates—the main villains on a mission to plant bodies under other people’s names. You might be thinking that this is all a stretch, but while you read you will identify with Peter as he struggles against the personal demons associated with his dead wife and the real demons that are chasing him.

The plot is a classic chase story. The old writing recipe for thrillers is to put your heroes in stressful and impossible situations and see how they survive. Mr. Brown follows this recipe in a style that will leave you breathless. Written in the first person, you become Peter Talbott. This technique allows the author to slowly bring to the fore the details of the mystery, uncovering the sleazy underbelly of a conspiracy that reaches all the way to Washington, where the chase ends. By that time, you have escaped the undertaker and his evil crew in Indiana; the undertaker, gang members, and police in Chicago; mafia hit men in Boston; and faux feds in DC. And just who is Parini?

Talbott finally follows his dead wife’s plea to move on with his life. He reluctantly involves Sandy Kasmarek, photographer and wife of one of the deceased the Indiana crew buries a second time, and their involvement becomes the romance-in-the-chase. Kasmarek is a tough lady with a big heart and the self-defense skills our hero lacks. Their relationship becomes hot and heavy on the train to Boston. This is probably good movie material. However, I would have been happier with less. The hanky-panky is not X-rated, but, after several sweaty scenes, it becomes tedious. In spite of her obvious charms, Sandy is also a less interesting character, although she, like Peter, is another wounded soul.

Mr. Brown occasionally falls victim to what I call “telegraphing.” This occurs when an author takes the omnipotent point-of-view and says what will happen later on. I would guess the name comes from a fighter telegraphing a punch or a pitcher telegraphing the type of a pitch he’s going to throw. It’s not quite as bad as deus ex machina, but it’s a writing sin nonetheless and can be annoying to some. The horrific embalming scene is telegraphed at the beginning, so I knew it was coming. It would have been more shocking otherwise. The appearance of Sandy in the plot is also telegraphed. I knew many pages before she actually appeared that Peter was going to be able to forget Terri. However, I was able to put these two cases out of mind and continue reading. Other readers might not be so generous.

There are also lapses in the description you have to get around. Why would cops, even in Indiana, use maps? With all their other gizmos, don’t they have GPS? While the time of the story is not exactly clear, GPS has been around a while and is probably more or less concurrent with the use of flash drives. The latter play an important role in the story and lead me to also conclude that there should be no elevated portion of I-93 between Back Bay and the North End (I-93 is one of the few but anemic spokes the Hub does possess)—Boston’s Big Dig took care of the elevated portion. Similarly, the large pedestrian area in New York’s Times Square has been around for a while but is not present in the story.

The book is also in need of some trivial editing. This can be rather serious at times. As a writer, I’m able to fill in missing words, as in the phrase “high marks originality” (a “for” is missing), and skip extra words as in the phrase “because the she” (the “the” is superfluous). In “gotta to” the “to” is superfluous since “gotta” by itself is the slang contraction of “got to” (which in turn is slang for “has to” or “must”). There is confusion between “loose” and “lose.” Most of these editing errors are ones that spell checkers don’t catch, but a good grammar checker will often pick them up. They can be annoying, but let’s face it, I’m nitpicking.

Before the reader of this review slaps his forehead and mutters, “Well, sure, this is what’s wrong with self-published books!” (or bargain eBooks, or indie authors), let me hasten to say that I’ve seen worse errors in books that have gone through the grist mills of the Big Six publishers, especially eBooks that appear months or years apart from the hard covers and trade paperbacks (I’ve just read one where all the apostrophes are generally missing—very annoying for possessives and confusing “well” for “we’ll”). I suspect that with eBook media the author/editor/publisher/eBook formatter is tempted to keep everything in electronic format, but often you don’t see these errors yourself unless you print your book in another media. (I always print out my eBook file and correct from the hard copy. It’s only one hard copy, after all—I haven’t killed a whole forest!)

My recommendation? Forget about the nits I have picked in the last four paragraphs. Buy this book and have some quality entertainment time. You won’t regret it.

Click Here To Purchase the Kindle Edition of The Undertaker