by Lee Cross
As part of Literati Pulp’s Halloween season, I’ve taken it upon myself to read a series of quality Horror/Thriller novels in translation. My original plan was to review them positively and then move on to the next to see how many obscure (at least to the English reading market) I could get through in a month.
“The best laid plans of mice and men…”, and what not… Needless to say, my plan didn’t clear the first hurdle, a Swedish book called My Name Is N by Robert Karjel, which was a load s**te.
Actually, that could be a little harsh, maybe it lost something in the translation, that happens with even the greatest books (…so I’m reliably informed, I grew up on an Island, they drink tea there, language skills are not widely required…sadly).
I’ll try not to completely pan the book (fully aware that I’m a bit of snob about thrillers) my basic problem with them being that most have been written before.
There are few, if any, truly original stories left to write, which isn’t to say that they still can’t be good books – David Baldacci / Lee Child / John Connolly… many others – you see their names on a cover; you know precisely what you’re going to get. They are successful authors, they write entertaining books.
I suppose it seems crazy to say that originality isn’t a necessary requirement for a Thriller but that’s honestly how I see things. My Name is N wasn’t original, in fact it very much falls into the ten-a-penny basket, but that wasn’t its weakness.
Its problem was unpredictably, or lack thereof. Sure there were twists but they came at you like a drum beat – BOOM – BOOM – BOOM – Boom – boom – boom – boom… lost interest reading yet? Well, that’s exactly how I felt.
How many more ‘reveals’ is RJ going throw in I wondered? Not that it mattered, by page 200 I had already lost focus on where the story was going and was in the mode of asking myself ‘do I care’?
Right there was the was the problem, I didn’t care. Ok, yes, the twists were predictable and I had read there like a dozen times before (…at least, crime/detective/spy novels are my version of bad TV; they pass the time while my brain recovers).
It was the characters and their motivations that hung My Name Is N. They were a mixture of incomprehensible, inherent and improbable (…many others ‘I’s available…).
Honestly, I’m not sure what it takes to make a good thriller but whatever it is, this book lacked it.
Perhaps the process is like making sandwiches, looks easy and perhaps should be, people have been making sandwiches forever… but well, it takes something extra special to make one that people want to talk about and would go out of their way to eat.
Who knows, whatever the secret, look for it somewhere else because I couldn’t honestly recommend My Name Is N.… this was cheese and ham on plain white bread.