A Cautionary Tale for Writers
Surfing Amazon one day for “Christian mystery” (or some similar keyword) I came across this book about a crime scene cleaner who finds evidence that the police missed – and it was free! I downloaded it, eager to start reading, and went to load it onto my e-reading device.
File is locked with DRM (digital rights management), meaning I couldn’t read it on my Nook (it’s a Kindle/.mobi file), nor on my dad’s Kindle (device registered to him, book registered to me).
Almost a year later, I did finally get to start reading (because AT&T got me a smartphone, long story short)…but needless to say it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Gabby St. Claire is a professional crime scene cleaner, and an interesting enough character. The perky go-getter type, with an interest in chemistry and forensics, she uncovers evidence in one of the houses she’s cleaning that seems to shed light on a murder investigation.
She then immediately jumps to a conclusion, and pursues that conclusion through the rest of the book. Most sleuths pursue a mystery: she pursued her conclusion…and guys.
It might be an artifact of the narrative point-of-view, and not an intentional action of the author, but for as suspicious as Gabby is supposed to be I found it very interesting that she jumps to wild conclusions on the basis of sketchy clues, and no one (except Police Detective Grumpy) no one seriously questions her forgone theories.
Neither I nor my family is law enforcement, but I have a great deal of respect for law enforcement officers and personnel, and I found it irritating the way Gabby portrays the investigating detectives. The principal one in particular, the one she gives her initial evidence to, alternates between a super-hot charmer she dreams of getting personal with and a brusk, stubborn, clueless ogre she suspects of wanting her dead.
Or maybe that says more about Gabby than about him.
She does have a tendency to start feeling things for men who walk into her life — okay, two men, but that’s way too many for a reader who doesn’t like love-triangles anyway.
One of these men is her new neighbor, Riley Thomas – a stellar side-kick character with a cool head, lots of patience, and a Christian faith that he tries to share. He has backstory secrets of his own, though, that make Miss Jump-to-Extremes doubt him, too.
As for the “faith” element of the book, Gabby is a classic “bad things happened to me so God is either fake or mean”-agnostic, and her spiritual journey and interaction with the Christians in the book form a major sub-plot. I was less than satisfied with elements of her traumatic backstory, as I thought they would play a role in the story/mystery beyond “Look at me I have baggage“. Perhaps they come back into a later book?
It’s been a long time since I was addicted to Nancy Drew and chewed through everything from The Secret of the Old Clock to Password to Larkspur Lane and beyond, but when someone tries to kill Gabby three times before the midpoint, it starts to smack of melodrama (and reminds me of a fantastic Dorothy Sayers quote, “The heroines of thrillers deserve all they get. When a mysterious voice rings up and says it is Scotland Yard, they never think of ringing back to verify the call.” p. 419).
The mystery part of the book also seems like an incidental setting for the real story: Gabby’s contorted romantic and spiritual journey. We would spend pages upon pages watching her try to decide who to trust, or wonder how a man as
cute intelligent as Riley could believe in a God, then spend one page interviewing a witness (whom she believed implicitly, because the evidence fit into her preconceived theory).
I was unduly happy that Gabby’s mule-headed dedication to her initial suspicion was unfounded, but while she’s deeply dedicated to this whole solving-crimes thing, her detecting style consists of leaping to conclusions from the haziest of clues, then butting heads with the police detective when he doesn’t jump fully on board with her. While she does eventually hit upon the real solution, she’s no Nancy Drew (her obvious role model), nor even Jo Tulip. And she’s a far cry from the remarkable Harriet Vane.
Not every book is a mystery book, but when you open a book looking for a Sherlock Holmes clue-and-deduction affair, but get someone’s-trying-to-murder-the-nosy-amateur-so-she-doesn’t-tell-what-she-knows-to-the-police-whom-she’s-already-told-and-they-didn’t-believe-her-and-what? let’s just say it’s disappointing.
This isn’t even mentioning the occasional typographical errors (which are rare enough that by themselves they could be overlooked) or research errors (such as Gabby gazing at Riley’s comely, tousled hair while he’s wearing a hazmat suit. A quick Google image search says no).
Finally, I must evaluate the Christian perspective of the novel. The Christians do a decent job sharing their faith, and Gabby’s condemnation of the perfectly-dressed Christians who argue about their order at the coffee shop and “leave tracts instead of tips” was convicting – but the author muddies her message (in my opinion) by the open-ended way she leaves her romance.
Gabby makes no religious declaration beyond a determination to “check out this church thing,” which is totally appropriate, but why is Riley (a man with baggage, but the Christian representative nevertheless) even considering a future for his attraction to Gabby as long as she’s an unbeliever (not to mention certain other concerns that I won’t mention because of spoilers)?
In short, the book is scare-quote “clean” but not exactly doctrinal. Granted, so are many people’s lives, but I would strive for something higher.
I’ve tried to be honest about my biases toward this book. I did finish reading, and I did get some entertainment from it.
But customers’ emotional associations with one’s product are an important consideration, and when I open the file, swipe past the title page and find:
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only…
I can’t help but remember I’m not the “customer who is always right”, nor even a “street-team friend”, but some dastardly person on the internet who must be countered with draconian software and intimidating legal language lest I spread the book contents across all the pirating sites…because of course it’s not like the book was available for free on Amazon.
So if you’re looking for a realistic portrayal of the struggle to demonstrate a Christian testimony toward hurting people around you…read Kate Breslin’s Not By Sight.
Apparently there are eleven other books in the “Squeaky Clean” series. Regretfully, this is one series that I “can’t even.”
Disclaimer: I downloaded an ebook copy of Hazardous Duty for FREE from Amazon. The author had no input in and NO RESPONSIBILITY for my caustic review.
To find out more about the author, visit her website at ChristyBarritt.com – and remember that authors are not their works.