I’d been underwhelmed with some of the products of male authors on her shelves, who seemed hooked on men without discernable feelings for their protagonists. Perhaps a female perspective would help.
I pulled out the book Whiplash, by Catherine Coulter. On the cover it was billed as “An FBI Thriller,” so that seemed potentially a fair sample in the same genre. Not unlike David Baldacci’s The Sixth Man, this one featured a male-female team of investigators who also have a personal relationship (in this case they’re married), and who have been the subject of several books.
Coulter is listed as a number-one bestseller, so she must be doing something right, I thought. And apparently Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock have a devoted following.
Unfortunately, this book did not improve my overall “take” on the thriller genre. Or “Romance Suspense Thriller,” as Coulter’s website proclaims.
Why not? Let me count the ways.
One: Wandering Viewpoints
I’m not a real big fan of the limited omniscient viewpoint, exactly because of books such as this. We dip at random into one person’s head, then another, until I wasn’t sure whose head I was in.
|Whose head are we in, now?
Is this evaluation of a character that I’m reading being done by an observer, an investigator, or by the character himself? Or a little of all of them? Or is it author intrusion? Let me offer an example, from page 61 of the hardcover edition:
“Turley Drexel was fifty-two years old, and cursed with a round baby face he’d hated for as long as he could remember. He answered her in the tone of a prim, tightly wound bureaucrat used to juggling numbers. ‘See here, Agent . . . . ’”
Does it matter whose head we’re in? Yes! To me it does, because until I know who is evaluating whom, I can’t begin to form an opinion about how reliable this witness is. Should I believe everything I’m told? Nothing I’m told? Some other measure? Yikes!
Two: Creeping Incredulity
|Dillon Savich at FBI HQ?
Dillon Savich is an FBI agent . . . who talks to dead people. Sometimes in his office. And when he does, his co-workers calmly act as if he’s just interviewing any old witness. See to believe (from pp. 179-180 of the hardcover edition):
“[Savich] concentrated hard on trying to see her face, but there was nothing but a vague outline he could hardly make out. He thought he heard her voice, faint and hollow, her words indistinct and distant, as if she were retreating, farther and farther away.
“Savich’s eyes opened slowly. He looked at Dane Carver, who stood in the doorway of his office, stone still, watching him. Dane asked calmly, ‘You get anything from the wife?’
“Had Dane knocked and he hadn’t heard him? Very probably. Savich had to grin. There was no doubt in his mind the whole unit knew about Senator Hoffman’s dead wife.”
Okay, then. Sure, that’s totally normal FBI behavior.
Granted, I’m coming in on the middle of a series. Perhaps it’s less weird if you’ve been following it from the beginning. But what about that thing where each book should stand on its own merits?
As my friend Lucy Synkremarked, “It would be like working with Mulder.”
Three: Clichés, much?
I bet you’ve already spotted a few in the quotes above, but looking for clichés in this book is kind of like—sorry—shooting fish in a barrel. J
Here’s my candidate for Whiplash Overall Winner in the Most Clichés in One Sentence Category, from page 64 of the hardcover edition:
“At first he looked decisive, a man at the top of his game, sure of his place in the sun.”
Four: Such Speaking Eyes!
Yup, I totally accept the “Romance Suspense Thriller” label. I don’t think I’ve seen that many different emotions, reactions, and thoughts in characters’ eyes since I was reading romances in high school.
When I was a teenager I used to believe it actually might be possible to read such eloquence in the eyes, but while I got pretty good at reading people’s facial expressions, I never did encounter eyes that spoke the volumes I’d been reading about.
Nowadays, I get restless with fiction in which the body language is lackluster and the eyes are doing all the talking.
|“You sly dog! You got me monologuing!”
Five: The Marathon of Monologues
The last eighty-or-so pages of this book consist of one sustained monologue after another. Jane Ann monologues. Then Kesselring monologues. Then Sherlock does her own monologuing, then Savich puts in his bit. Then Bowie. Then Hoffman.
I kept flashing on Syndrome, in The Incredibles, scolding Mr. Incredible: “You sly dog! You got me monologuing!” Except no one has to encourage these guys. They just spontaneously blather on. And on.
Six: Police work? We don’t need no stinkin’ police work!
Sadly, without the monologues, they never would’ve solved the case(s).
|Following up? Analysis? Evidence?
I’m not kidding. Most of the truly crucial police work is done off-stage, on a hurry-up basis, after the heroes have made rather large intuitive leaps.
We don’t get to see the clues coming together, so we don’t get much chance to try solving the mystery for ourselves.
|No, this isn’t a chart of the plot. But it could be.
Seven: The Battle of the Storylines
Whiplash is not A story, it’s two. Nor do I see a whole lot of overlap between them; it’s not as if they’re two sides of a single conundrum, or even parallel conundra (conundrums?). Nope, not much overlap at all.
As far as I can tell, it’s all in one book because of a small, circumstantial link, and mostly because neither storyline is strong enough to support the whole book on its own.
While I was reading, I kept trying to figure out what the title means, and how it fits with the story. Between my reasons #1 and #7, I’ve concluded that perhaps it’s because a reader might get whiplash zigzagging from viewpoint to viewpoint, and plotline to plotline.
Is Whiplash worth reading?
That depends on what you like.
If you’re okay with speaking eyes, psychic FBI agents, and monologue after monologue to miraculously close the case, or if you’re already in love with these characters, maybe the rest of it won’t bother you so much.