by Alice Morgan
Cornelius is here to warn you that this article contains some spoilers.
Walking the Bones
Every now and then I like to pick up a random book. A choice that is not based on recommendations or reviews, but on a whim. I check who wrote it, of course, but I will probably not recognize the writer. I note the title, the genre and the cover, because yes, I absolutely judge a book by its cover. Wanting to read a detective mystery, a thriller, or something along those lines, I browsed through my Hoopla selection and borrowed Walking the Bones by Randall Silvis.
What I neglected to notice at the beginning was that I picked up the second book of a series. This eventually dawned on me as I kept reading, but I didn’t care enough to stop. Starting with the second book didn’t take anything away from the experience because the story mentions events that happened in the first book, and reading further filled in the blanks. But damn, this was a difficult book to get through.
Here is a riddle
Can you call a story a thriller/detective mystery, if 70% of the book is none of those things? There are detectives in it, but I don’t think that alone is a qualifying factor, which leads me to my biggest complaint about this book: It is in the wrong genre. I can’t describe how angry I was when I discovered that I was mislead. (Actually, I’m still pretty angry.) Because here is the thing. If the book was listed as a character study—which is what it is—I would not have touched it, because that’s not what I wanted to read.
The story begins with an action scene from the future and when the scene ends, the story loops back to the present. I really dislike this plot device for a number of reasons, so let’s examine that for a bit.
The first chapter is the most difficult to write in any book. You, as the writer need to introduce characters, create a setting, set up the atmosphere and do all this without overwhelming the reader, because you want them to keep reading. Long, drawn out descriptions are a huge turn off for a lot of people, so how can you accomplish all that and make the story interesting at the same time? Of course! Throw in an action scene from towards the end of the book! The readers get a glimpse of what is to come and they will want to know the resolution. How did our protagonist got himself into this situation? Is he going to escape/survive? Who is the antagonist?
This might keep the readers going for a while, but it also creates pacing issues right from the beginning. If you put your character in life threatening danger on page 1 everything between that and page 450 is going to feel like they are filling out their tax return. What’s worse, when the readers finally catch up with the action, it is going to feel like a huge let down, because you can’t possibly make up for all that anticipation. The writer is, A: hopes that you are invested enough in the story to push through the second half of the book or, B: the book is 80% done and you are not going to stop reading by that point.
I’m sure there are books out there that manage to pull this off, in which case I would love to read them and feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email about your suggestions. It’s just that I haven’t read any, so it’s usually a major red flag for me.
Anyway, the story is about the personal struggle of the main character who is grieving for a number of reasons, suffers from some level of depression and can’t seem to figure out how to move forward with his life. The focus of the story is basically this, and his relationship with his lover. The crime/detective factor is only secondary. It would probably make no difference if the main characters were dentists or librarians. If you are still reading I applaud you. This is already way longer than I intended it to be.
Where things turn 18+
What else? Oh yeah, sex and masturbation. Two things I didn’t think I would be reading about in a book tagged as Crime, Detective & Mystery, Police Procedural. Don’t get me wrong, both of those things are fine in their respective genre, but I think when people decide to read detective stories they are there for the investigation and not for soft porn. There is a scene where the female lead—who is in high-school at the time—has sex with her dead friend’s father. Did we really need that in this story? I’m not even going to comment on the implied or not so implied incest.
Walking the Bones consists of 464 pages and 152 chapters. To put that in perspective: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is the longest, most difficult book I have read. It is a 1049 pages with 30 chapters. That should give you an idea about how broken the structure of the book is. Often, when a scene ends, the author decided to start a new chapter. It usually makes no sense, because based on the content, there is no reason for the chapter to end. This stylized spacing is completely arbitrary and it takes away from the reading experience. I think it’s one of the reasons why some people can’t read past chapter 14. Instead of being immersed in the story, the book constantly reminds you that you are reading a book, and how much you still have left to read.
too many things…
Other things that I’m just going to list quickly: Both leads are unlikable and they don’t work as a couple. Their attempted humor doesn’t work most of the time and it falls flat. There is not a single likable character in the book. The group of characters called the “Irregulars” have no reason to exist. (Three amateur investigators that accomplish nothing.) One of them would have been enough to give the lead a phone call and it would have saved everybody a 100 pages. The book asks you to take leaps of logic that are longer than the trippiest fantasy novel you have ever read. There is a lot of backstory in the book and all of it relates to nothing. It has no baring on the present. For example, we learn that the protagonist’s mother committed suicide. So you would think that he would be more shaken, or be able to empathize more with people who went through a similar tragedy. At the end of the book, he gets a phone call that his wife is in the hospital because she tried to kill herself. He says to his lover: “I’m the only person who understands what she’s going through. I need to go there. [..]”
A paragraph later, I’m talking about 6 sentences here with 2 dialogue points included.
Lover: “You better come back.”
Lead: “I promise. With a divorce agreement in hand.”
Are we not supposed to like these characters? What is wrong with these people? I would expect more empathy from a rock. I guess the two leads deserve each other after all; they are both horrible people.
So, we learned all that backstory for nothing. At the end it didn’t make a difference that his mother killed herself. It was all just a sob story; content to add to his tragic past.
Do judge a book by its cover
When the first ever book was printed graphic design didn’t exist yet. Back then it made sense to not judge a book by its cover, because they slapped a title on it and called it a day. Today, however, it’s someone’s job to make book covers. There are designers who specialize in that branch of design. It is their job to make the book marketable, to make it stand out. When you look at a cover you are supposed to be able to tell what it is about, or get a feeling of its contents without reading the title.
With that in mind, here is the cover of Walking the Bones:
The small part of the book that does focus on the crime has very little to do with buried bodies. It’s relevant maybe for the total length of 3 sentences. The shovel is a generic device to imply corpses and murder, but it doesn’t fit the story. So even the cover is misleading.
“…deeply satisfying….this solid procedural offers heart-pounding moments of suspense. Silvis smoothly blends moments of exquisite beauty into a sea of darker emotion to create a moving story…”—Publishers Weekly, STARRED Review
Yeah. Clearly, they have read it.
Even the description is a lie.
“Walking the Bones is a story about things buried—memories, regrets, secrets, and bodies.”
Am I the only one who actually read this book? The biggest mystery here is that why the letter “B” on the cover is highlighted with orange for no apparent reason.
In conclusion, you should question anybody who rated the book more than 2 stars. I could go into more detail about all the things that are wrong with it, but what’s the point? I think you get the idea. If what I listed above is not a turn off for you, then you might actually enjoy this one.
Previous Blue and Peach #7 – It’s All Relative
Other featured The True Meaning of “Gloomy Sunday”