Corgi, £3.99, ISBN 0-552-13214-4
Crime Fiction, 1989
Te is the second book in the late Marc Olden’s series revolving around TV crime reporter Frank DiPalma, and it’s almost the recipient of this month’s skewering for the TBR Challenge. I picked this one because I had to pack light for a trip abroad, and this was the only thing I could find at a flea market. I have never missed a single month, after all, and I don’t intend to start. Having said that, this one is a complete miss.
Basically, this one is a standalone tale revolving around a fire in an American-owned electronics factory in Hong Kong, which killed 61 women. Frank and his psychic son Todd will soon discover that there is a cover-up going on. There is a deranged mercenary on the loose while being protected by powerful people with sinister intentions, so this is going to be one fun party, woo-hoo. Oh, wait.
My issue with Te is a personal peeve thing: the author is apparently 100% against showing anything in his story. It’s all tell, tell, tell.
Emotional scenes? Tell, tell, tell. The back story of Frank’s shagging of some Chinese woman before manfully walking away, unaware that his superior Anglo-Saxon sperm has fertilized a submissive Chinese woman’s egg, only reuniting with the son after that woman is conveniently dead – all this is described in cold, clinical short sentences. The entire story has this cold and clinical feel because it unfurls like a police report. I know what these characters do and say, but they may as well be puppets whose strings are pulled blatantly by the author as they have no discernible personality. It’s all “He does this, she does this, bam!” from start to finish.
Worse, this one is a straight-up sober thriller. No exploitative elements, no hilariously racist scenes of white men being fawned over and lusted by Chinese dragon ladies who know super secret sex techniques, no misadventures with opium… the whole thing is pretty down to earth. Normally this isn’t a bad thing, but this is already such a dry story that it could use something, anything, to give itself some hint of memorability.
Is Te a bad read? I guess it depends on the reader. My brain recognizes that the pacing is pretty good, and the mystery is constructed in a pretty serviceable manner. It’s just that the writing style is so off-putting in an “Oh my god, can this be any more sleep-inducing?” way. Personally, I don’t find the mystery or the suspense is anything interesting to be worth having to sit through the author’s utterly dull if concise style of writing. I put aside Te so many times just to stare at the monotonous greenery during a long trip in a cramped bus – that’s how boring this thing is.