Book Review: Dead in the Water

Image from Barnes and Noble website

Synopsis

Camille Ellis is the Earthen Conclave’s golden girl. Her peculiar talent solves cases with a touch. She isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty, but every bright star casts a shadow, and her deepest scars lurk just beneath the skin.

A routine consultation goes sideways when a victim’s brother gets involved in the investigation. Riding the edge of grief, the warg will go to any lengths to avenge his sister’s death. Even if it means ensuring Cam’s cooperation at the jaws of his wolf.

When the killer strikes again, Cam is caught between a warg and a hard place. To save the next victim, she must embrace her past. Even if it means dragging her darkest secrets into the light of day.

Amazon

Review

Read: March 2021

Rating:

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Spoiler warning!

This is one of those books that I read just for the sake of meeting my Goodreads goal this year. I never thought it looked spectacular, but what the hell, it was short, so why not?

Here are my highest praises for Dead in the Water: It isn’t an agonizing read, and I don’t wish death upon all the characters. In fact, I’m rather fond of Harlow and Dell and would almost be interested in learning more about their stories.

Edwards seems like she might have a grasp on how to write mysteries, but her potential is obfuscated by her terrible world-building. I actually had to check Goodreads to ensure that I was definitely reading the first book in the series or double back in the book itself because I felt like I was constantly missing huge chunks of information. Edwards has stints in the book where readers flounder for information and others that consist mostly of amazingly awkward infodumps. For instance, there’s a scene in which Cam scores a gigantic lead in her case – a moment when readers should experience vicarious triumph and realization through her. Instead, the prospectively intriguing conversation is repeatedly interrupted by Cam’s lengthy explanations about the book’s setting and system. There’s a balance between providing background to readers ahead of an event and filling them in as they go, and Edwards absolutely does not strike it.

I’m overall unimpressed with the characters too. I mentioned above that I kind of like Dell and Harlow, but it’s worth noting that that affection isn’t terribly strong. Cam is a prosaic protagonist – and an unimpressive detective. She’s just not that good at her job. The book I’m currently reading features a young woman who is decidedly not a career detective, and she is much better at solving mysteries, noticing details, reasoning her way through problems, and utilizing the tools at hand than Cam ever proves herself to be. Immediately following Dead in the Water with Firekeeper’s Daughter only highlighted Cam’s shortcomings as a detective. You know who else is a better detective than Cam? Her love interest. Cord Graeson has no access to all of the awesome law enforcement resources that Cam does, and he still puts stuff together much more quickly than she does. Also, if you’re a detective who routinely gets into cars with strange, grief-ridden people who can turn into wolves, you’re even more of a fucking moron than a civilian who does the same thing. And when she’s trying to figure out one female character’s motive for doing something for money, she reasons that the girl just wants the money to buy more makeup and clothes because that’s all that matters to that little hussy, right?!?! She doesn’t need food or shelter, just stupid shorts and expensive cosmetics! So yeah, I’d feel completely comfortable calling Cam an idiot.

I’m not rooting for Graeson as the love interest either. He is a smug, smarmy asshole – and he’s creepy. He follows Cam covertly because he needs her help and doesn’t trust her bosses. That’s a tad weird, but on its own I can understand that. But eventually his behavior descends into grabbing Cam and sniffing her and fucking abducting her. After kidnapping her, he tries to defend his behavior by arguing that Cam wouldn’t leave the case behind anyway. Well then, dickbag, if that’s the case, why didn’t you just ask her?? Bonus: When Harlow is getting attacked by magical hedgehogs, he stands around observing the event and inquiring whether Harlow, Thierry, and Cam need assistance. Oh, so now you’re good with asking before acting, pal? Fuck you.

When I began writing this review up, I intended to award it a whole two stars; as I wrote, however, I realized just how stupid this book is and downgraded my assessment to 1.5 stars. Only read this if you have a quota to fill. Otherwise, skip it.

Review: Through Violet Eyes

ThroughVioletEyes

Synopsis

In a world where the dead can testify against the living, someone is getting away with murder. Because to every generation are born a select few souls with violet-colored eyes, and the ability to channel the dead. Both rare and precious—and rigidly controlled by a society that craves their services—these Violets perform a number of different duties. The most fortunate increase the world’s cultural heritage by channeling the still-creative spirits of famous dead artists and musicians. The least fortunate aid the police and the law courts, catching criminals by interviewing the deceased victims of violent crime.

But now the Violets themselves have become the target of a brutal serial murderer—a murderer who had learned how to mask his or her identity even from the victims. Can the FBI, aided by a Violet so scared of death that she is afraid to live, uncover the criminal in time? Or must more of her race be dispatched to the realm that has haunted them all since childhood?

Review

Ah, quarantine, you have brought me to some new stories, and Through Violet Eyes was one of them.

It wasn’t a good story. Fair warning: This book was dreadful and I’m hoping to spare you the misery of reading it, so this review is brimming with spoilers. If you actually want to read Through Violet Eyes yourself and be surprised, turn back now!

Through Violet Eyes portrays itself as a mystery tinged with a sci-fi/fantasy element: In this universe, there are people whose eyes are – you guessed it! – violet, and these folks can communicate with the souls of the deceased. This has potential to be interesting if combined with strong characters, a decently planned plot, and solid, creative execution of the premise. Woodworth just doesn’t deliver.

For one thing, there’s little that’s remarkable about the main characters beyond just straight-up weirdness or lameness. Although each undergo some level of character growth, those developments are so predictably induced and so shallowly conveyed that the reader reaps little satisfaction and enjoys scant emotional connection with the characters in question. Natalie Lindstrom is a young Violet who works for the government like just about every other Violet does for at least some portion of their life. At the moment, the suits are using her amazing powers to channel dead witnesses for jury trials. Her frequent contact with the deceased has caused Natalie to lead a restrained, overly cautious (read: paranoid) life in the interest of postponing death as long as possible.  Dan Atwater is an FBI agent who basically committed manslaughter on a person of color but is now back on duty. So logically, after such a massive blunder, Dan is assigned to guard an extremely valuable lead, Natalie, in a serial killer case in which the victims are all people who can talk to the dead.

The progression of Dan and Natalie’s romance is completely calculable. Although Natalie begins the book pining over her childhood sweetheart, Evan, whom she has not spoken to in eight years, she quickly falls in love with Dan in a matter of weeks. Dan, too, feels the love in that same time span. And when I say “weeks”, I mean less than a month – or at least, that’s what I’m assuming because Woodworth is really unclear about the passage of time. Let’s ignore the time span, though, because time is sometimes inconsequential. The real issue is that, from the beginning, everyone can guess that Dan and Natalie are going to end up together, and there’s little to the story of how that happens. It’s the kind of love story you’d expect from mediocre fanfiction. Their romance consists of fluffy carnival rides, climbing stairs, and flying. (Like, a lot of flying. Seriously, Dan’s superiors have no idea how to coordinate their agents to save some fucking taxpayer money and fuel.)  Dan learns to love again after his divorce, and Natalie learns to live a little and not be terrified of the carousel. It’s a win-win for both of them.

Secondary characters are not bestowed with the attention they deserve either. Those who are important enough to warrant a number of dimensions greater than two are deprived. Too often, characters aren’t fleshed out. Most of the supporting characters are already dead or are on their way there. The rest are just there to help without being characters in their own right, often while serving as diversity tokens. Sid Preston, the obnoxious reporter who’s been stalking Dan and Natalie as he researches the case of the Violet killer and whose only contribution to the case is a license plate number, arguably receives as much or possibly even more attention than Serena. For playing such an important role in the story – saving Natalie’s life, assisting Dan with contacting Sondra, and ultimately killing Dan while possessed – she’s just there to help and be a friend to the deuteragonists. That’s all. Oh wait, and she’s black – a fact that Woodworth feels the need to point out every third sentence when she’s on the page. Don’t get me wrong: Serena’s blackness is not the issue, nor is acknowledgement of her blackness. The problem is that she is repeatedly described as “the black woman” or “the black man” (the latter in reference to her appearance in a disguise) at a frequency that borders on annoying while little else is established about her character. It’s one thing to illustrate a character; it’s entirely another to continuously reiterate their race while also saying nothing about their race. What else would readers need to know about her? Who she is as a person? How her blackness is a part of her identity? Her motives for doing things, for joining Simon’s group? Nah. What relevance do those things have to the white people in the story? Serena, a former CIA associate and now a member of a cryptic group known to some as a cult, has the capacity to be one of the most intriguing characters of the story, but Woodworth suppresses that potential by pigeonholing her into the dreaded “magical negro” trope.

Compounding Woodworth’s fumbling of Serena’s character with regards to race is Dan’s spotty past. Prior to the events of the story, Dan shot an unarmed person of color in a case of mistaken identity, believing he was the suspect that had killed a couple of other police officers that night. He and the remaining two officers were charged and subsequently acquitted of murder. Dan was then somehow reinstated as an officer of the law and released back into the wild with a badge and a firearm in tow. No anti-bias training, no anything – just a trial, an acquittal, and a divorce. Look, I understand that the issue of racially-charged police brutality wasn’t as prominent in the media back in 2004 (then again, I was seven, so maybe I just wasn’t paying attention), but the way Woodworth handles the matter seems… insensitive. The whole matter is resolved with a fuzzy, feel-good moment of forgiveness when Dan’s and Allen’s spirits collide and they each understand the other’s perspective of the fatal incident. I mean, yeah, on one hand, forgiveness and empathy are often good things. Yet, the way Woodworth settles this conflict sugarcoats the awfulness underlying the event: a (white) law enforcement officer is not held to higher ethical standards for his occupation, his remorse is used as a get-out-of-jail-free card, and the victim is a person of color who was basically assumed to be the bad guy because he “looked like the suspect”. Big yikes. Call me a nitpicker, but one heartfelt moment doesn’t really make up for all of that shit and the systemic racism seething just behind the curtain. At this point, it’s quite fair to say that Woodworth is ignorant on matters of race – and this is coming from a white girl.

Woodworth manages to pound out a mystery plotline – albeit a lackluster one – but overall, his writing style is rankling and often straight-up odd. No, I don’t mean “odd” in either the whimsically charming or the rivetingly bizarre senses, but rather in the “cringe” context. Let’s start with the sex. For one thing, there is a scene in which Dan, upon witnessing Natalie doing yoga in the morning, gets an erection. When she steps out of the room to take a shower, he actually fucking talks to his penis aloud. Guys, do you really do this? Is this a thing that I’m just not privy to? Because I’m trying to imagine talking to my nether regions and it’s just… weird. Also, I don’t know what planet Woodworth lives on, but here on Earth, pubic hair is rarely “downy.” Yet for all his explicit descriptions of breasts, pubic hair, and erections, Woodworth shies away from a detailed sex scene when our two heroes finally succumb to their attractions and begin their relationship with a night of lovemaking. Given how awkward Woodworth generally is on matters of sex, though, it’s probably best that he spared readers the details. Woodworth also has no idea how to write about gay characters. The only non-heterosexual is a dead fifty-something guy who’s described as “squirrelly-looking” and who inhabits Natalie’s body without her consent to attempt to rape Dan. This incident is used as a plot device to demonstrate how Violets can be inhabited against their will, particularly when sleeping, and to further Dan and Natalie’s blooming romance by letting Russell Travers spill the beans about Natalie’s sexual feelings for Dan. There are literally a million different ways that Woodworth could have accomplished this goal without painting the only homosexual character in the book as a perverted rapist. Additionally, Woodworth turns to disabilities for adjectives, which he uses pejoratively or flippantly. Natalie is described as repeating a mantra “like an autistic eulogist”. Dan, at one point, attempts to cry Natalie’s name in “a Down’s syndrome slur”. Is it really that difficult for Woodworth to   crack a thesaurus and pick some words that aren’t insulting? He totally could’ve gone with “a drunken slur” and just left out the “autistic eulogist” part. Those faux pas are totally avoidable, and yet Woodworth careens head-on into them with zero regrets.

The bottom line is that Through Violet Eyes simply is a bad book. A hackneyed plot, feeble characterization, and some seriously gauche handling of basic social issues bury anything positive about this story. Hopefully, this review has spared you all from wasting precious reading time on such an unworthy piece. Countless other books are calling your names!

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Cover image and synopsis are from BarnesandNoble.com.