One interesting aspects about reviewing books is leaving one’s normal reading milieu. Sometimes a book gives an insight into a different life, and sometimes it is just unexpected.
The Hidden Chamber of Death by Hawk MacKinney managed both of those. And it raised a number of writing points.
First impressions were not good.
A convoluted – albeit short – prologue, too many adjectives, clichés, and too much imagery introduced in Chapter One.
‘It blanketed the yard, beading the screens of his dog-trot sleeping porch with shimmering water droplets.’
‘Some of them were the finest people he’d ever known, but there were always a few rotten apples in any bushel.’
‘The floral centerpiece formed a halo starburst of torn petals and shattered cobalt blue fragments of a wine bottle.’
These are OK in isolation but too much of this sort of writing in the first few pages wearies the reader. Well this one. I want to know what the story’s about without all this distraction.
Then, there is the introduction to some of the monied families involved. At this point I needed one of those nice little charts that showed everyone’s connections, as I was struggling – and failing – to map one out in my head.
But what is it about? Ex-SEAL PI works with a local police officer, natch a former SEAL buddy, on a case that involves the death of a banker, some dubious accounting around a monied estate (of which the PI is the trustee) and a few random murders by a depraved sadistic psychotic killer. A beautiful widow is involved, which I wrongly assumed would be the dead banker’s wife. So, wrong-footed there to start with.
What was fascinating (to this non-American) was the detail of the culture of old money in the deep south across Georgia and South Carolina. My only knowledge of this area comes from For A Few Dollars More where Col Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) was the finest shot in the Carolinas. Not quite the same I suspect.
On this culture thing, one puzzlement was when the PI was invited to high tea at the mansion of the banker’s widow. The butler served tea (to drink) in the afternoon in china cups. And … that was it.
Now, afternoon tea in England consists of nice little finger sandwiches, frequently cucumber, or cucumber and salmon, or maybe smoked salmon. Followed by a scone perhaps or fairy cakes. It’s a real performance.
High tea, on the other hand, is something like ham and egg and chips, served around 6 pm. It’s a sit-down meal.
I have no idea what afternoon tea or high tea in America is, but if this was old money America I’m surprised no food was forthcoming.
Also, on the cultural issues, there is some local dialect in dialogue. Dialect is a controversial issue in current day writing. People are advised not to write like Mark Twain. It is regarded as slowing down the reading. Personally I don’t mind reading dialects, I think it adds colour but needs to be used in moderation. It’s not just the dialogue, MacKinney used a load of phrases and idioms that were totally alien to me. Another learning curve.
Back to the plot.
What nearly stopped me reading was Chap 3. I loathe gory graphic descriptions of sadistic torture. And the story jumps from laying out all the complex pieces to set the scene for the banking conspiracy, to some totally sick perverted piece of detritus. To be fair, there was a content warning on this book.
I can never understand why people object to consensual sex in books or swearing, but don’t have a problem with reading about people being ripped to bits.
But I persevered because the banking conspiracy aspect was interesting, and MacKinney is skilled at building tension, and alternating pace.
The lead character, Craige Ingram, is good. I expected macho SEAL antics but he was a thinking person. Wrong-footed again. He’s obviously good-looking and rich, but more importantly, he has a GSD. I’m sold immediately! His ex-SEAL buddy doesn’t play a major part in the telling of the story, yet like another former SEAL (a lawyer), he’s there when he needs to be. Networking par excellence.
What I also liked were the strong female characters: Ingram’s grandmother, the banker’s widow, the beautiful widow (the sex/love interest), the lustful secretary, the two bagwomen, the bad rich girl, every one added colour to the story.
And, the plot was interesting, which made me keep reading. Although, the ending felt rushed. Note to Mr MacKinney, spend a bit more time on beginnings and endings. Overall, I think it was worth the read. As this is the first of a series, I’d be interested to see if the characters develop further in the next book/s, or if it’s just more of the same.
I’d recommend a new graphic designer. That font on the front cover is truly horrible, it detracts from the image which is extremely significant, and the back with the blurb is difficult to read. On the plus side, the font inside is excellent. Which isn’t much good if the cover puts off readers …
There were some punctuation typos and a few formatting glitches, otherwise it was cleanish.
At this point I should add MacKinney’s bio.
He started writing mysteries for school newspapers, and has since written mystery/suspense, historical fiction, sci-fi, and professional articles/texts on foetal and adult anatomy.
Unsurprisingly, he spent more than 20 years in the US Navy. While serving as a naval commander he worked as a faculty member at several state medical units. He has postgrad degrees in languages and history, and has taught postgrad in the US and Israel.
His historical novel, Moccasin Trace, was nominated for the Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction and the Writers Notes Book Award.
Prizes are five ebooks or print copies, and a $25 Amazon gift card, all available internationally.
Thanks to iRead Book Tours and to the author for being willing to send print books internationally. It’s always good to curl up with a real book and lose yourself in a different world.