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Author: Lillian Melendez

Black Rose Writing


I chose to read and review this book because the story seemed interesting, and it is. Cybercrime, from identity theft (the focus here) to scams of all sorts, pornography, and terrorists’ propaganda, represents the dark side of the internet. It’s natural it makes an appearance in mysteries and thrillers. However, while the plot of this book has potential, we have a case that goes far beyond Pirandello’s problem—the case of a story and more than six characters in search of an author.

Here’s the summary: Someone has stolen Anna’s identity, drained her bank account and used her credit card, and tried to murder her. Older sister Anna, who is blind, decides to help out. But that nefarious someone has a hidden agenda that goes beyond her choice of an occupation where she leads a large gang of hackers. The latter attracts the attention of FBI special agents who think Anna’s case is part of a bigger conspiracy. Gloria teaches Anna to use her other senses, and the two, along with a cybercrime expert named Benjamin, who Gloria just happens to be interviewing on her radio show, set out to solve the mystery.

Not a bad plot, right? I thought so too. As usual, the devil’s in the details. As I remarked above, the author doesn’t do justice to either her plot or her characters. In fact, all the basics are missing. Taut and logical plot development is missing; characterization is one-dimensional, stereotyped, and often annoying; point-of-view is mishandled in a number of places; good back story, in flashbacks or otherwise, is lacking, leading to abrupt segues and reader confusion; and dynamic, natural-sounding dialog is often replaced with awkward, formal-sounding sentences, sometimes being inconsistent in the same speaker.

The prose is often verbose: “Purposely relieved the congestion built up in his chest (i.e. he coughed!); “Behind your statement, you’re telling me something, aren’t you?” (i.e. what’s your hidden meaning?); and “Philip unraveled the piece of gum from its paper, threw the wrapper on the floor (he’s in an alley), put the gum in his mouth (where else?), and then chewed (what else?) (I’d eliminate all of this because we already knew Philip took the gum out of this pocket!).

There are lapses in logic: Philip, one of the bad guys, claims to have lost a USB memory stick while in a police station where he’s mistaken for a purse snatcher, yet Jimmy, another hacker-miscreant, says he gave Philip the stick afterwards; honey is NOT a sugar substitute for diabetics; and hearing isn’t done one ear at a time, even if you’re blind (that’s why stereo systems work).

Some turns of phrase are very amusing: “Gloria explained the difference between fillet of fish and salmon…”; “Gloria moved her ears away from her sister’s agony” (I’m not even sure what that means); and “…I find much joy seeing you spin around, finding your tails, so to speak….”

My main problem is not being able to relate to any of the characters, though. Protagonist Gloria comes across as an annoying know-it-all; sister Anna is a shrieking case-of-nerves; and Benjamin is more an expert at confusing issues than one in cybercrime. The FBI agents seem incompetent, but I would prefer that Gloria chooses Special Agent Sanchez as a romantic interest; he’s a much better match for her personality than Benjamin, who seems a better match for the shrieking Anna.

OK, is this just bad writing? What’s going on? That was the great mystery for me, and I think I solved it: the author’s first language can’t be English! I’m fluent in Spanish. I see many curious turns of phrase as being representative of a native Spanish speaker’s struggle with English idiomatic prose—I struggled the same way in Spanish, but total immersion solved many of my issues (I learned to understand jokes, which are often plays-on-words, and could read Garcia Marquez in the original, for example). I could write reports in Spanish and even a textbook or two, but I don’t think I’d be able to write a novel in Spanish, though. I suppose it’s possible to write fiction in other than your native language, and I see it as a challenge that some might want to accept. But telling an entertaining story in English is hard, even for native speakers. Not everyone should attempt it.

The author has good plot ideas—I see her preparation in psychology shining through more than any prep in writing, for example—but she needs to work on writing basics. She also needs to read more mysteries and thrillers in the English language to master that idiomatic prose. Finally, when embarking on a writing project, she will probably always need content and copy editors and beta-readers who will check the logical progression of her plot. I can’t recommend this book to readers in its present form. I hope I didn’t come across as a nasty old curmudgeon in this review, and I hope the review will help the author—I think she has promise, but she’s going to have to work harder at it if she wants to write entertaining fiction. This was a slog, even for me; the average leader will throw up their hands in disgust.