Fiction: “The Maze” by Catherine Coulter

the-mazeWhen I was in the middle of reading The Witches, a strange feeling came over me. I couldn’t explain it. I do get this feeling occasionally, but I’m rarely able to pinpoint where the feeling comes from. This time, I think it was a mixture of reading a book for entirely too long (The Witches), plus a general sense of ennui.

That feeling? Was a desire to read a really shitty book. Something I could just … rip to fucking shreds, douse those shreds in gasoline, light a match, toss it over my shoulder, and then walk the fuck away. A pure, antagonistic, anarchic feeling.

It’s been a while since I’ve ranted – really ranted – about anything. At least, nothing literary. I’ve had some rants in public, about certain public events (and gaslighting) that are occurring currently in our society, but a book rant? I haven’t had one of those since one of those really shitty romance novels I read.

So why did I go back to Catherine Coulter? Especially after The Cove was so disturbingly bad? Well, first, I had read The Maze years ago, but couldn’t remember its quality. I guess I thought the chance was pretty good that it’d be at least as bad as The Cove?

I do want to take a moment and say that, if I were forced to score these books against each other, I would give The Maze a slight edge over The Cove. Mainly because Ms. Coulter has grown (slightly) as a writer in that she doesn’t have one-sided dialogue tell the story any longer; but still, it’s baaaad.

Before I start this verse of The Rant Song, I suppose I should tell you some of the plot.

The star of the book is Lacey Sherlock – yes, that is her real name. Yes, Ms. Coulter incorporated every single fucking “Sherlock” pun she could think of. Yes, it gets incredibly tedious. Lacey Sherlock is a rookie FBI agent. Upon graduation from Quantico, she is recruited into Dillon Savich’s unit on criminal behavior or something. Look, I’m not going to look it up, y’all should know that by now. But Savich uses computers to track trends and catch serial killers and I’m all, whatever. Oh, PS, this was written twenty years ago, so the technology is wicked dated.

Savich wants Sherlock on his team because a) she figured out he was the bank robber in her last Quantico / Robber’s Alley simulation, and b) apparently she’s the best FBI trainee Quantico had ever seen since J. Edgar Hoover.

silence_of_the_lambs_jodie-foster_clarice-starling

Yeah — I’m right there with ya, Clarice.

So Savich hires Sherlock onto his team, and she quickly breaks a case that the rest of the team had been working on for a while, and I’m all, whatever. But in the middle of the case, Savich quickly realizes that Sherlock … has a secret.

Because of course she does.

See, her sister was murdered by a serial killer! Seven years ago, the serial killer lured her sister, Belinda, into a giant maze, and when Belinda got to the center of the maze, he cut out her tongue and killed her! And Sherlock has been hiding this secret (?) for seven years while she graduated college and underwent FBI training, all so she could catch the serial killer and kill him in return! And no one knew about her dead sister this entire time?

And then her sister’s widower comes to Washington unexpectedly and starts stalking Sherlock, who is polite (because even though her sister’s dead, he’s still considered “family”) but aloof. But he ain’t having none of it. Also, everyone – her ex-brother-in-law, Savich’s … secretary, I’m going to say, because I can’t remember and never looking it up, y’all – but everyone is assuming that Sherlock is sleeping with Savich. But she’s not. At least, not right now. It does happen, eventually – and not that hotly, either, but I’mma gonna get to that.

And then Savich figures out Sherlock’s … secret, and instead of kicking her out of the Bureau, he helps her find the serial killer, which they do … by doing a Google search on lumber? You guys, I can’t even with how dumb this is. Anyway, Sherlock goes “under””cover” to find the serial killer, and it is just —

God, this whole thing is so dumb. So the serial killer, Marlin Jones – his real name, hand to God – kills women who badmouth their husbands or significant male partners. It also helps him kill them if they use profanity.

That’s it. That’s the motive.

hannibal-smirk

Yes, Hanni – that is adorable, compared to you.

Ugh – I just realized how much I miss Hannibal.

ANYWAY. So Marlin kidnaps Sherlock (who’s still “under””cover”), takes her to a new Maze, and she gets him arrested. But – how – there’s still a hundred pages left in the book? Da fuck??

Oh, but don’t worry, there’s plenty more ludicrous-ness to go. See — Savich’s secretary is still being mad jealous of Sherlock for no fucking reason, and hires some dude to break into Sherlock’s apartment and tell her to leave town, but also, he threatens to rape her. This after Sherlock was stabbed or concussed or something in getting rescued from Marlin’s maze. So in the middle of being threatened with rape, Savich manages to come to her rescue and bring her back to the hospital. When she’s released, he takes her to his condo, they do sex, and then Marlin escapes? (That’s not as connected as it sounds – it’s not like their sex is what releases Marlin from prison.) Or, wait – she has to go back to San Francisco for some family thing, and Savich is now in love with her and won’t let her be alone for five friggin’ minutes, and that’s when Marlin escapes! (Don’t worry guys, it literally doesn’t matter which is the real turn of events.) And then we find out that Marlin’s dad – whose name is Erasmus, be tee dubs, what the fuck – is also out of jail and most importantly, alive? And kind of the ringleader of the whole Maze-serial killer-thing? And also Douglas, Sherlock’s ex-brother-in-law, may have also been boinking Sherlock’s mom? While having the hots for Sherlock? Oh, and also married to a right See You Next Tuesday?

Seriously. You guys. I am never making it up.

And as if the plot weren’t! bad! enough!? Ms. Coulter’s writing has. not. improved. At least, not as much as I’d hoped.

Oh my god, a thousand words and I haven’t even started quoting this shit. Goddammit.

Okay, where do I want to start. Oh — so, back when I read The Cove, I ranted about how bad her dialogue was. I just reread that review, and apparently, my apoplexy rendered me unable to point out Ms. Coulter’s tendency to start bits of dialogue – usually a sentence at the end of a paragraph – with a “Yeah, [statement].” And the character isn’t even answering a question!

Here are some examples from The Maze, because yes, I dogeared all of them.

“Can you help us?”

“Both Agent Sherlock and I have just a few questions. Perhaps we can meet with your people and get the answers. Yes, Captain, there’s not a doubt in my mind that we can help you.” [p. 32]

Y’know, common parlance is to answer a dude’s question once it’s asked. So, y’know, “Yes, Captain, there’s not a doubt in my mind that we can help you” should come first. But – y’know what, it’s fine.

“Yeah, she’s out like a light.  Keep an eye on her, Savich.  She scared the hell out of every cop in that warehouse, but she sure got the job done.  Funny thing how her shooting him saved his life.  If you hadn’t called a quick halt, the cops would have turned him into a pincushion. Hey, we’ll call tomorrow. Oh yeah, we got a lot on him.”  [p. 122]

“The young cop who messed up and let two of the old people go in that Florida nursing home murder – he has no idea. We were right – all old people look the same to him. Oh yeah, there’s been a spate of murders in South Dakota, right in Elk Point, then the guy went over the border into Iowa.” [p. 218]

“I’m going to call Jimmy Maitland and let him know we’re back. And Ollie. Yeah, I think I’ll give Hannah a ring. Yes, I think you’re right. She’s probably behind the leak. I’m beginning to think this might be a good time for her to transfer to another section.” [p. 262]

It’s so. annoying.

Also annoying – how people can’t just fucking come out and say Sherlock has goddamned reddish hair. Look at this stupidity from Savich’s stream of consciousness:

He cocked open an eye. Sherlock was standing over him, a shock of her red hair falling over to cover the side of her face. He watched her tuck the swatch of hair behind her ear. Nice hair and lots of it. Her eyes were green, a pretty color, kind of mossy and soft. No, her hair wasn’t really red, but more red than anything else. There was some brown and a dash of cinnamon color as well. He guessed it was auburn. That’s what he’d thought the first time he’d seen her. [p. 38-39]

A hundred pages later, and he’s still not convinced he knows what color her hair is:

That hair of hers had come loose from the clasp and was rioting around her face – red hair that wasn’t really a carrot red or an orange red or even the auburn he’d thought, but a mixture of this color and that. She had lots of hair. Actually very beautiful hair.  [p. 123]

Even Sherlock’s ex-brother-in-law, Douglas, cannot just call red hair “red”:

[Douglas] touched her hair, then sifted it through his fingers. “Beautiful. It’s auburn, but not really. Perhaps more Titian, but there’s some blond in there too and some brown.” [p. 47]

What the fuck. Guy’s a douchemonster. Wouldn’t know Titian if it came up and bit him in the face. (I’ll get to Douchemonster in a minute.)

Okay. I have been writing this review for entirely too long. So, I’ve just gone through my Word document of quotes that I want to bitch about, and divided them up into categories. Without further ado:

CATEGORY ONE: Man, These Serial Killers Are Awful Talkers

So, remember: the serial killer who leads the poor defenseless women into The Maze is Marlin Jones, acting under the influence of his father, Erasmus Jones. I am never making it up. And remember their motive!cute: they don’t like women who badmouth their husbands, and they especially don’t like women who swear. Here, Marlin monologues (!) to Sherlock about one of his prior victims while she’s in the middle of The Maze:

“He brought her in one night. They had a big argument right there. She even threw a beer in his face. She cursed him up one side and down the other. She even called him a motherfucker. Most women, even bad ones like you, they don’t say that word. That’s a word for real bad guys.” [p. 135]

YOU WATCH IT, MOTHERFUCKER. Although maybe it’s slightly comforting that at least a serial killer might be able to like me for who I am as a person?

hannibal-smiling

Besides as food, Hanni.

ANYWAY. There’s also that dude that Savich’s secretary, Hannah, hired to scare Sherlock into leaving Savich alone. Y’know, the one that breaks into Sherlock’s apartment and scares her when she’s getting out of the shower (oh, I forgot to mention that part:)

“Why do you want me to leave Washington?”

The gun stopped.  He drew his hand away.  “Your mama and daddy need you at home. It’s time you went back there and took care of your responsibilities. They don’t want you here, involved in conspiracies and shooting people, the way the FBI does. Yeah, they want you home. I’m here to encourage you to go.”

“I’ll tell you why I can’t go back just yet. You see, there’s this murderer, his name is Marlin Jones, and he just killed this woman in Boston. He’s a serial killer. I can’t leave just yet. I’ll tell you more but it could take a while.  Can’t I put on some clothes? We can go in the kitchen, and I’ll make some coffee?” [p. 173]

Yes, offer the person who is waving a gun in your naked face some coffee, Sherlock! There’s no way that will end badly! (PS, I am going to get into how Sherlock talks. Christ on sale.)

But anyway, she asks him what his name is (because remember, this individual is unrelated to the main serial killer plot!), and this is, hand to God, his entire response:

“Who are you?”

He laughed. “Call me Sam. You like that? Yeah, that’s me – Sam. My pa was named Sam too. Hey, I’m the son of Sam.” [p. 174]

I can’t with that shit. Here’s why I can’t with this shit: It’s fucking lazy writing that has no point.

ALLOW ME TO ELUCIDATE. (P.S., this is a thing I do with my employees when they write letters to taxpayers: if I feel they’re going off on tangents, I show them “the point” of every sentence they have written. And if there is repetition, or no “point,” the sentence gets fucking cut.)

  1. “Call me Sam.”
    Okay. So, if it had stopped there, I wouldn’t have had an issue. Sherlock asked who he is, and he answered: “Call me Sam.” And with just that one line, we the reader could infer that “Sam” is not his real name, and we can move on.
  2. “You like that?”
    Now, “Sam” is asking Sherlock if she likes his choice of name. Here’s the thing, though: it doesn’t matter what Sherlock likes or wants. This person broke into her apartment, and came upon her when she was getting out of the shower. She is naked, unarmed in all senses of the word: she is beyond vulnerable. “Sam” has all the power in this scenario, and there is no need – besides emphasizing his louse-ness, I suppose – for “Sam” to ask if Sherlock likes his name. And even if he’s not asking her how he did for a name choice, if he’s just making noise? That’s almost worse.
  3. “Yeah, that’s me — Sam.”
    Great – he’s re-emphasizing his choice. Either to make sure Sherlock gets what she is to call him, or – and this is my theory – he’s really proud that he came up with a name so quickly when asked, and now he’s just chuffed about it.
  4. “My pa was named Sam too.”
    This sentence was either written to show the level of education “Sam” has (“pa” as opposed to “father”), or as setup for the next sentence. There is no other reason this information need be relayed to Sherlock.
  5. “Hey, I’m the son of Sam.”
    Oh, it was a joke. Now, before you get all up in arms about “See? He needed the fourth sentence so the joke lands in the fifth”, I must ask you: does the joke land? And, more importantly, is the joke necessary? I posit NO.

This has been “Story Structure Theory OR: Is That Sentence Really Necessary?” With Alaina Patterson.

(God, that whole paragraph pissed me off royally.)

CATEGORY TWO: Douglas, Sherlock’s Ex-Brother-in-Law, Is a Terrible, Terrible Person

He is. He is a terrible, terrible person. He is a misogynist. He is abusive, both mentally and physically so. He is hitting on Sherlock while married to a woman who is just as awful as he is. He makes me so angry, he just makes me want to – set him on fire!

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This is part of our first introduction to Douglas:

“Let’s go eat, Lacey.”

“You look like a prince and I look like a peasant. Let me change. It’ll take me just a minute. Oh yeah, everybody calls me Sherlock.”

“I don’t like that, I never did. And everybody has to make a stupid remark when they meet you. It doesn’t suit you. It’s very masculine. Is that what the FBI is all about? Turning you into a man?” [p. 51]

Here, we have another instance of somebody going “Yeah, [statement]”: this time from Sherlock. But let’s talk about Douglas. He takes her statement – “everybody calls me Sherlock” – and interprets it that the FBI is taking away Sherlock’s femininity. Go fuck yourself, Douglas.

At dinner, Douglas brings up the fact that he’s probably going to marry some woman back home because she claims he got her pregnant. And to show how absolutely awful Douglas is, that’s not the worst part of it:

“She claims I got her pregnant and I suppose that I could have, but I’ve always been so careful. Living in San Francisco, you’re probably the most careful of any American.” [p. 53]

WHAT THE EVERLOVING FUCK. FIRST OF ALL, GO FUCK YOURSELF, DOUGLAS. And SECOND OF ALL, GO FUCK YOURSELF, CATHERINE COULTER. 

This is not the first time Catherine Coulter has elevated the link between homosexuality and the AIDS epidemic in a completely unsympathetic way. I remind you of this, from my review of The Cove:

So Sally has been kidnapped for the umpteenth time, this time by her not-father. And her not-father is monologuing about his reasons for institutionalizing her and making her life a living hell. And here is where he brings up her gay husband:

“And, you see, I knew all about his lover. At least I made sure you didn’t get AIDS.” [316]

At least I made sure you didn’t get AIDS. [“Fiction: ‘The Cove’ by Catherine Coulter”]

I mean, goddammit. And before y’all start saying, “Alaina, this was written twenty years ago,” fuck you, twenty years ago was 1997! 1997 was recent enough to realize that gay people are not walking contagions for AIDS, which is exactly what Ms. Coulter is implying, in both of these novels. You cannot tell me with a straight face that Ms. Coulter is merely referring to birth control when it comes to Douglas “being careful” while “living in San Francisco.” This is homophobia, plain and simple, and I will fucking call people out on their fucking bullshit when I see it. So both of them – the fictional character and its creator – can go fuck themselves.

What else does Douglas do? Oh, how about lurk outside of Sherlock’s apartment, waiting for her to come home?

“Is that Savich?”

She was so startled she nearly fell over backward. As she was flailing for balance, he came out from behind a tree. “Oh my heavens, it’s you, Douglas. You nearly stopped my heart. Is something the matter? Is everyone all right?”

“Oh yes. I’ve been waiting for you, Lacey. I came over hoping we could have dinner. But you weren’t here.” [p. 60]

What the fuck. Also, he kisses Sherlock without her permission, and then his wife, Candice, who I’m fucking getting to, barges in and accuses him (rightly) of being a cheating pig, and then this happens:

“Candice,” he said very patiently, as if speaking to an idiot witness, “Lacey is part of my family. Just because Belinda died, I didn’t cut her out of my life.”

“I saw you kissing her through the window, Douglas.”

“Yes,” he said quite calmly. “I did. She’s very innocent. She doesn’t kiss well and I like that.”  [p. 151]

I … I don’t even have any more vitriol left for him. Go fuck yourself, Douglas. Go find the most splintered broomstick in your woodshed and just … go to town on your own asshole with it. Fuck you, you disgusting excuse for a fictional character.

CATEGORY THREE: Douglas’s Wife Candice Ain’t Much Better

So remember, Candice was the woman who Douglas at first thought was knocked up. Turns out, she was lying to get him to marry her. When they got married, she admitted that she was not pregnant. So Douglas returns to attempt to get Sherlock back – even though he never had her in the first place, so “back” is a misnomer. And then Candice follows Douglas – from San Francisco – and manages to follow Douglas back to Sherlock’s apartment, unbeknownst to either Douglas or Sherlock.

“I followed you, Douglas. And you came here just like a little trained pigeon. I knew you’d come to her, even though I prayed you wouldn’t. Damn you, I’d hoped our marriage meant something to you. Just look, you let her kiss you. You’ve got her lipstick on your mouth. Damn you, you smell like her.” [p. 151]

This isn’t the first time Ms. Coulter does this, but do you notice how she repeats key phrases in the same paragraph? That’s another thing I’d use my red pen on with my employees.

A hundred pages after this, Candice is badmouthing Belinda to Sherlock and Savich:

“Belinda had low tastes. I’ve heard that she went to dives, to real low-class places. That’s where she would have met this killer. Yes, I’ll bet she did sleep with him. She slept with everyone. Why don’t you ask her?” She turned and gave Lacey a vicious look. “Yes, ask the little princess here.” [p. 248]

“Now, Candice, how do you know so much about Belinda? She was killed seven years ago. You weren’t even around then.”

“I’m an investigative reporter. I looked up everything. I spoke to people who’d known her.” [p. 249]

I just … I don’t see the point of having such an antagonistic person in this story. What purpose does Candice serve? How does she contribute to the narrative? This book has so many stupid plot tangents that you could completely cut out the whole Douglas and Candice shit and you’d still have … well, you’d still have a mess, but that’s because the whole motive behind testing women by having them walk a maze is fucking stupid.

CATEGORY FOUR: … Oh my god.

And not just any normal “oh my god.” This is the Bob Belcher, pinch-the-bridge-of-his-nose-in-disgust “oh my god.”

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So when I read these, please realize that the primary reaction I had was to facepalm myself and mutter, “oh my god.”

“What’s your name?”

“Lacey Sherlock.”

“No one’s named that. That’s stupid. That’s out of some dumb detective story.” [p. 134]

YOU MEAN LIKE THE ONE I’M READING? oh my god.

“What’s going on, Savich?”

“My gut. You’ve never before mistrusted my gut, sir. Don’t mistrust it now. I’m out of here and on my way to her house. She was going there to get more stuff. We made a firm time date. She isn’t here. Sherlock’s always on time. Something’s happened and I just know it’s Marlin and Erasmus. Put out an ABP on her car, Mazda, 4X4 Navajo, license SHER 123.” [p. 307]

HER LICENSE PLATE, YOU GUYS. WHAT KIND OF FUCKING AMAZING FBI AGENT HAS A GODDAMNED PERSONALIZED LICENSE PLATE. ESPECIALLY SUCH A STUPID ONE. OH MY GOD.

And now, the moment that I truly felt bad for Savich:

It was nearly morning when Savich came slowly awake, aware that something strange was happening, something that was probably better than any pesto pasta he’d ever made, better even than having won a huge bet off one of his relatives. The something strange suddenly intensified and he lurched up, gasping. She was leaning over him, her tangled hair covering his belly, her mouth on him. [p. 263]

I may not know too much about blowjobs, but I do know how to tell one apart from pesto pasta. I am so sorry for Savich. I can only imagine his train of thought while he was waking up. What’s — what’s that I’m feeling? Is that … is that pesto pasta on my dick? No, it’s the mouth of the girl I went to bed with last night, and the mouth is on my dick, and it’s doing things that I like. Like, dudes, answer me a question: how much time actually elapses between “being asleep” and “knowing you’ve got a woman sucking your cock”? Isn’t it pretty immediate for you guys? Like, that’s a feeling you know immediately, deep within you(r balls)? HOW DOES HE NOT KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON

oh my god.

Before I get to Category Five, the Katrina of the book, I have one random thing to add because it makes me laugh:

Savich put his elbows on the table, looked directly at the man, and said, “Detective, were there any repairmen in the Lansky household within the past two months?”

Dubrosky reared back, then rocked forward again, banging his fist on the table. “Do you think we’re fucking idiots? Of course we checked all that!” [p. 32]

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I just want to point out here: this rant is officially longer than my rant on The Revenant. I am so sorry, you guys – I didn’t realize how epic this was going to be.

On to CATEGORY FIVE, THE MOST SERIOUS OF CATEGORIES: Sherlock isn’t as cute as you think she is

One of the traits that comes out in Ms. Coulter’s dialogue is Sherlock’s awkwardness when it comes to speaking. Here’s an example: for context, her direct superior just witnessed Sherlock Poirot-ing about how she solved a case in front of the entire staff meeting, but she neglected to inform her direct superior first.

“There honestly wasn’t time, Ollie. No, of course there was time. It’s just that I, oh damn, this sounds ridiculous, but I really wasn’t even thinking about it until it popped right into my head. Surely you’ve done the same thing.”

[…] “It wasn’t a very nice thing to do, Sherlock.”

“No, you’re right. It wasn’t. I can only say that I honestly wasn’t thinking about it.” It was true. She hadn’t known that Savich would put her on the spot in front of the whole Unit, but he had. There’d been no time then to say anything to Ollie. No, there’d been time. She just hadn’t thought about it. [p. 77]

Between the stuttering and the going back and forth about how there wasn’t enough time to tell Ollie, no actually there was, she was just dumb – it’s an annoying quirk.

She’s even indecisive about when she intends to kill Marlin Jones:

“All right, the truth.  He hasn’t told us everything.  If I could have gotten all of it out of him, then I would have shot him clean.  Well, maybe.  Yes, we have to get him to tell us everything, then I’ll shoot him in the chest, I promise.”  [p. 119]

And here, she’s actually doing a rather decent job of defending herself to Jealous Hannah, but then no, wait — yup, there she goes, fucking it up:

“Ollie told me that Savich doesn’t believe in becoming involved with anyone in his unit. That includes all of us, Hannah. If you want him, then I suggest you transfer out. Listen, I just want to catch this monster in Boston. Actually I did lie. I do want Savich’s brain and his expertise. Does that count? Is that brain lust?” [p. 82]

Now, let’s talk about her time being “under””cover” when attempting to bait Marlin Jones into kidnapping her. I know I’ve said it before, but remember: when it comes to Marlin deciding who his next victim will be, the secret word is fucking.

“What are you doing with the plywood, ma’am?” [asks Marlin.]

“I’m building props for my son’s school play, and that’s why I need to use plywood, not hardwood. They’re doing Oklahoma! and I’ve got to put together a couple of rooms that can be easily disassembled then put back up. So I’ll need some brackets and some screws too.”

“Then why’d you pound a nail through it?”

“That was just experimentation. My husband, that fucking son of a bitch, won’t help me, drinks all the time, won’t take part in raising our son, won’t show me any affection at all, well, so I’ve got to do it all myself.” [p. 105]

escalated-quickly

Like, she just decided to fucking go for it. Marlin doesn’t like women who swear? And he doesn’t like women who badmouth their husbands? Okay, let’s call the pretend husband a “fucking son of a bitch”, an alcoholic, and a neglectful parent and lover. Can’t just say “motherfucker,” huh, Sherlock?

Now, this next quote is from just before Marlin kidnaps Sherlock, and I’m not sure what this sentence means:

Her heart pounding, she whirled about, a gasp coming out of her mouth. “Oh goodness gracious, Marlin, you scared the stuffing out of me. Oh yeah, you scared me shitless.” [p. 107]

Is it just another example of Ms. Coulter’s “Yeah, [statement]” tic? Or is it Sherlock realizing she could have swore in the first sentence, so to cover it up she goes, “Oh yeah,” where it could mean “Oh yeah, I mean, you scared me shitless”? I’m not sure. But I do know it’s dumb either way.

This description of Savich’s voice is just fucking lazy:

“Your voice made me quiver – all dark and soft, like falling into a deep, deep well. If I were a criminal, I’d say anything you wanted to keep you talking to me like that. It’s a wonderful voice. Plummy – that’s how a writer would describe your voice.” [p. 183]

NOBODY SAYS ‘PLUMMY’ IN REAL LIFE. You overplayed your hand, Ms. Coulter.

And finally, speaking of Ms. Coulter’s hand, I want to leave you with this statement from her acknowledgements:

Whenever I hear writers brag about how their editors don’t require any changes to their manuscripts, I’m honestly floored. It’s an editor’s job to be the reader’s representative and thus make the manuscript better. And believe me, a manuscript can always be made better.  [Acknowledgements, pg. I]

Well, as I just typed 5,000 words to prove that your editor isn’t worth a goddamned dime, I just have to say: no shit, Sherlock.

jon stewart boom

Grade for The Maze: Twilight stars.

Fiction: “The Cove” by Catherine Coulter

Oh … my god. Oh, my god. So I’m not even sure why I grabbed this for my vacation. I think I had been wanting to re-read some of Catherine Coulter’s stuff, but clearly, I had been able to block out the memory of reading this the last time. Because oh my god, you guys, I found a book that’s written worse than either Twilight or anything Patricia Cornwell’s spit out.

Because look: Twilight has bad messages and bad characters. Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta is a snobby bitch, pure and simple. But in spite of the stuff that makes me rail against them long and hard, at the end of the day I am still able to find good things to say about them: Twilight, as bad as it is, at least is able to stay true to its own canon, and the violence is pretty decent in the Scarpetta novels. But this … I’m pretty sure that if there were a rating worse than “twilight stars,” this would get it. Maybe “die in a fire stars”? I mean, I could see myself burning this at some point.

Why do I want to eradicate this from my existence through the cleansing power of fire? Because it’s badly written. And not just a couple of typos here and there like in Twilight; it’s just … awful.

The plot. Susan “Sally” St. John Brainerd escaped from a sanitarium in Washington, D.C. to hide out with her Aunt Amabel in this tiny town called The Cove, Oregon. She is hiding because she is suspected of killing her father, Amory St. John. James Quinlan ends up in The Cove as well, ostensibly to bring Sally back to DC, but he ends up falling in love with her, like, immediately, so instead he decides to protect her. Because she seems to think that her father is still after her, even though he was buried two weeks ago.

But then! James gets conked over the head and Sally gets kidnapped back to the sanitarium! And then! James enlists his FBI pal Dillon Savitch to help break her out! And when they do, Sally learns that James isn’t the private detective he said he was, but an FBI agent! So she runs away, but gets caught by James and Dillon again when she tries to escape a biker gang! So she decides to hide with James, who she is also falling in love with, until the evil Dr. Beadermeyer (not making any of this up, by the way) tries to kidnap her again, but he is thwarted. And then there’s the Poirot-esque solving of the mystery — her father wasn’t really dead! Because Beadermeyer isn’t a psychiatrist, but a plastic surgeon, and put Sally’s father’s face on a random dude so he could escape and continue to sell arms to Iraq and other naughty places. So James and Sally return to the Cove because there’s still a mystery of where some random tourists disappeared to, and it turns out that the Cove is such a perfect town because the old people citizens keep killing the tourists and stealing their money in order to beautify the town, and there are tons of mass graves in the cemetery, and when the seniors are found out, they kidnap James and Sally (again), and Sally is kidnapped by her father, who is NOT DEAD, and it turns out that he’s been sleeping with Aunt Amabel for years and also, he is NOT HER ACTUAL FATHER, which is good because when he would visit Sally in the sanitarium, he’d beat her and abuse her sexually (but not rape her, because that would be awful), and eventually all the old people die and are put in jail, and Sally’s not-father is gunned down when he tries to escape from the FBI again, and honestly, I expected Sally to be kidnapped one more fucking time before the end of the book but luckily, even Catherine Coulter has her limits.

So how, aside from the plot, is it written poorly? The entire story is told via dialogue. And look, I am notorious for telling stories via dialogue — well, maybe you guys aren’t aware, but I have numerous half-written stories in My Documents wherein the action is primarily told through dialogue between parties. Rather than have an omniscient third-person narrator (which I do employ frequently), I love when characters already have a relationship and refer to shared moments in conversation, and that is how plot points are moved along.

What Catherine Coulter does is tell the story through dialogue, but shoddily and in a disjointed manner. And boy, do I have examples. Like, she doesn’t understand that there is a balance between “Show and Tell,” and instead, she uses Telling to Show.

For example: in this scene, Sally has just fallen off her motorcycle after trying to evade both Quinlan and Dillon and a motorcycle gang, who were actually decent people after all, as one of them is a doctor:

Quinlan dropped to his knees. “Can I take off her helmet?”

[The doctor biker dude replies:] “No, let me. I guess maybe we should wear helmets. If she hadn’t had one on, she might have scrambled her brains and not necessarily left them inside her head. You’re really FBI? She’s really a criminal?”

“Of course she is. What are you doing? Okay, you’re seeing if her arms are broken. She’d better be all right or I’ll have to flatten you. You scared the shit out of her. Yeah, she’s your typical criminal type. Why isn’t she conscious yet?” [200-201]

In addition to some shitty phrasing, we are also thrown in a shitty PSA that equates to “Wear Your Helmet, Kids.” But seriously, if I were Ms. Coulter’s editor, this is how that last paragraph would sound:

“Of course she is.” The doctor started patting Sally’s arms. Quinlan reached out and grabbed his wrist. “What are you doing?”

“I’m checking to see if her arms are broken,” said the doctor, in an offended tone.

“Oh. Okay.” Quinlan sat back on his haunches, duly chastised. Sally still wasn’t waking up. “Why isn’t she conscious yet?” he asked, worried.

HOW MUCH BETTER DOES THAT SOUND? You know why? Because some of the action is being described instead of narrated, and it doesn’t feel as clunky as a ten-pound bowling ball being carried by a ballerina. (Think about it.)

AND THAT’S JUST ONE EXAMPLE. I LITERALLY HAVE 21 MORE, and those are only the WORST OF THE WORST. (I will not show all 21. But know that, at any time, I could whip one out.)

Oh, speaking of Blazing Saddles, here’s another example: Quinlan wants to get the major players together for his Poirot-dump.

He handed [Sally] the phone.

“Mom, then Scott, then Beadermeyer.”

[After hanging up with her mother …] She started to dial Scott’s number. Quinlan lightly touched his hand to hers and shook his head. “No, I think your mom just might get the other players there.”

“He’s right,” Dillon said. “If she doesn’t, then we’ll talk to her alone. We need to anyway. We need to know exactly where she stands in all of this mess.”

“James is right,” Sally said and swallowed hard. [240-241]

Okay, first of all, who else went in their heads, “Howard Johnson is right”? Second of all, YOU JUST ASKED HER TO CALL ALL THREE PEOPLE. Thirty seconds later, you decided to let her mom do the dirty work and NO ONE QUESTIONED THE CHANGE OF MIND?! I — I —

Then, when they finally do get to see Sally’s Mother, she is just as clueless to how dialogue should sound as the rest of them:

“Mrs. St. John, we saw the car parked on Cooperton. Sally was here. Is she still here? Are you hiding her?”

Noelle St. John stared at his ID, then at Dillon’s. Finally, after an eternity, she looked up and said, “I haven’t seen my daughter for nearly seven months, Agent Quinlan. What car are you talking about?”

“A car we know she was driving, Mrs. St. John,” Dillon said.

“Why are you calling my daughter by her first name? Indeed, Sally is her nickname. Her real name is Susan. Where did you get her nickname?” [176]

Wouldn’t … if you were curious as to a stranger using your daughter’s nickname, wouldn’t that, I don’t know, immediately follow the stranger’s use of said nickname? And not remember three questions later?

And then there are the moments when characters answer the same question multiple times in the same line of dialogue. Have a few:

“Please tell me you believe me. I wouldn’t kill your father.”

“Yes, Noelle, I believe you — although if you had shot him I would have applauded you. But no, I never really believed that you did.” [174]

“You found him?”

“Not yet, but I found his footprints beneath your bedroom window and the indentations of the ladder feet. Yeah, our man was there. What size shoe does your husband wear, Sally?” [113]

“She’s going to her mother’s house. Not her husband’s house. You know my intuition, my gut. But to be honest about it, I know her. She feels something for her mother. That’s the first place she’ll go. I’ll bet you both her father and her husband put her in that sanitarium in the first place. Why? I haven’t the foggiest idea. I do know, though, that her father was a very evil man.”

“I assume you’ll tell me what you mean by that later?”

“Drive faster, Dillon. The house is number 337 on Lark. Yeah, I’ll tell you, but not now. Let’s get going.” [172-173]

You know what else I’m noticing? Catherine Coulter has never embraced the awesome punctuation mark that is the semicolon.

Which also leads me to believe that, for her original draft, she was paid by the word. Because otherwise, there’s no reason for extraneous information that doesn’t move the plot along, or come back to be recalled later. For instance:

Quinlan told him about the old couple he was looking for. He didn’t say anything about the townspeople lying to him.

“Over three years ago,” the sheriff said, looking at one of Amabel’s paintings over Sally’s head, this one all pale yellows and creams and nearly blueless blues, no shape or reason to any of it, but it was nice. [57]

Why? Why describe the painting, as if it were going to have a clue in it later on down the road? What’s the point? Or how about the bajillion times the old lady told Quinlan and Sally about the gyrowhatevers her husband What’s-His-Face made before he died of pneumonia the year Eisenhower was elected? Dudes, I didn’t have to look that up to paraphrase it, it was mentioned that frequently.

And then there’s the times when characters just get confused about what they were talking about in the middle of a scene. For your amusement, the first page I dogeared with a sigh of disgust:

Suddenly she stood up, her eyes fixed on something just off to the right. She shook her head, whispering, “No, no, it can’t be.”

He was on his feet in an instant, his hand on her shoulder. “What the hell is it?”

She pointed.

“Oh my God,” he said. “Stay here, Sally. Just stay here and I’ll go check it out.”

“Oh, go to hell, Quinlan. No, I don’t like Quinlan. I’ll call you James. I won’t stay put.” [49]

CLEARLY, Sally sees something that scares her. Instead of merely voicing her protest at being treated like a scared female (which is something else I may discuss, if I still have the energy later), she also in that moment decides what she’s going to call Quinlan. In the middle of being mad at him. That sentence does not make logical sense!

And before I get into the Sally-as-Damsel, I have to say that she’s not the only person afflicted by What Was I Talking About-Itis. Even the villain gets in on it!

“I should have known you two goons would fuck it up. Pick up the damned needle, you idiot. Jesus, it’s dark in here, but not dark enough. I knew I should have just knocked her out. Or shot the little bitch. Damn, let’s just get out of here. Forget the needle, forget her.” [233]

And just think — these aren’t even the best of the worst! I realize that, by this time and this many words, I have made my point and made it well. But when have you ever known me to stop? And besides, if this little post does anything, I’m hoping it will ensure that you, dear reader, never picks up The Cove. I was actually having a conversation about this very book last Sunday with some friends after midnight, and I was discussing what I hope this blog does. I hope it inspires people to pick up books they may not have picked up. Sometimes (and what I hope is the majority of the time), I hope it inspires the reader to pick up a book that sounds interesting. However, I admit, that there are times that it could inspire a reader to pick up a book by saying, “No way is it that bad.”

For a prime example of that, I’d like to take a moment and redirect y’all to the fun time I read Decadent, and that was all because my friend Sarah saw that I had read Bound and Determined and said “ALAINA you HAVE to read Decadent because one of the lines in it is, hand to God, ‘Fucking her ass, saving her life.'” And I said, “It can’t be that bad.”

And lo, it was. So guys, if you’ve gotten through all this and are still contemplating picking it up because it can’t be that bad, please: allow me to continue with a couple more.

Because now we get into the good stuff. The ludicrous stuff. The I Can’t Believe This Got Published Stuff.

The Melodramatic Stuff.

She waved away his words. “Someone was after me, James. Nobody was after you.”

“It didn’t matter.”

She began to laugh. “Actually there were two someones after me, and you were the second, only I was too stupid, too pathetically grateful to you, to realize it. I’m leaving, James. I don’t want to see you again. I can’t believe I thought you were a hero. God, when will I stop being such a credulous fool?” [162]

Oh, this is a good one. Here’s the quote, and it’s Sally telling James about a family incident.

“Once when I’d been visiting Noelle, after I left to go back to my apartment, I realized I’d forgotten my sweater. I went back into the house and there he was, kicking my mother. I went to the phone to dial 911. As far as I was concerned, it was the last straw. I just didn’t care anymore. He was going to pay. You won’t believe it, but my mother crawled to me, grabbed my leg, and begged me not to call the cops. My father stood there in the library doorway and dared me to do it. He dared me, all the while watching my mother sobbing and pleading, on her knees, her nails digging into my jeans. Jesus, it was horrible. I put down the phone and left. I never went back. I just couldn’t. Nothing I did mattered, not really. If I was there for a while, he just waited until I left. Then he probably beat her more viciously than if I’d never been there at all.” [238-239]

Now, if you had flipped back about fifty pages [pages 171-172, to be exact], you would have seen this exact same scene, but given with the dialogue as Sally remembers it to herself. So instead of saying something along the lines of Sally told Quinlan about the last time she had seen her father beat her mother, Ms. Coulter recounts it nearly exactly from when she had first introduced the scene fifty pages ago. I maintain: paid by the word.

So, remember that Sally was institutionalized by her father and her husband because they thought she was crazy? Here’s her husband’s rationalization for her insanity:

“Why did you believe I was sick, Scott?”

He didn’t say anything, just waved his pipe at her. “You weren’t a good wife. Your dad swore to me that your career was just something for you to do until you got married. He said you were just like your mother, a woman who really wanted a husband to take care of and children to look after. I wanted a wife to stay home and take care of me, but you wouldn’t do it. I needed you there, to help me, to understand me, but no, you never stayed there for me.” [259]

I’ve decided I’m too tired to get into the misogyny found in this novel — from Sally’s multiple kidnappings to the abuse she suffered at the hands of Dr. Beadermeyer, his assistant, and her not-father, there’s plenty enough to talk about. So I’m not even going to bring up the fact that apparently Scott only wanted Sally to be barefoot and menial in the house.

What I am going to bring up? The fact that Scott’s gay. And has a lover in London. What type of gay man would want a female beard to clean the kitchen? Because lemme tell you, that kitchen is spotless.

This … this one, I’m not going to say a word. Just read it.

She gave him a long look, and again that look was filled with quiet rage. “You are nothing more to me. None of this is any of your business. Go to hell, James.”

She turned away from him and walked down the wooden steps. It was chilly now. She wasn’t wearing anything but that too-small shirt and jeans.

“Come back, Sally. I can’t let you go. I won’t let you go. I won’t see you hurt again.”

She didn’t even slow down, just kept walking, in sneakers that were probably too small for her as well. He didn’t want her to get blisters. He’d planned to go shopping for her tomorrow, to buy her some clothes that fit her, to — damn, he was losing it.

He saw Dillon standing near the water line, unaware that she was walking away.

“Sally, you don’t know where you are. You don’t have any money.”

Then she did stop. She was smiling as she turned to face him. “You’re right, but it shouldn’t be a problem for long. I really don’t think that I’m afraid of any man anymore. Don’t worry. I’ll get enough money to get back to Washington.”

It sent him right over the edge. He slammed his hand down on the railing and vaulted over it to land lightly only three feet away from her. “No one will ever hurt you again. You will not take the chance of some asshole raping you. You will stay with me until this is over. Then I’ll let you go if you don’t want to stay.” [163]

And finally, the piece de resistance. The ultimate in Badness. You are going to be astonished, I promise you.

So Sally has been kidnapped for the umpteenth time, this time by her not-father. And her not-father is monologuing about his reasons for institutionalizing her and making her life a living hell. And here is where he brings up her gay husband:

“And, you see, I knew all about his lover. At least I made sure you didn’t get AIDS.” [316]

At least I made sure you didn’t get AIDS. THANKS, NOT MY DAD. Thanks for caring about my immune system’s health while you jacked off to the sight of my drug-addled body.

I can’t even, you guys. I can’t even. All I know is about halfway through the book, I would read a page, roll my eyes, and then proclaim loudly, “I am reading a book with substance next. I can’t take this shit anymore.”

Alaina Patterson: Reading Shit So You Don’t Have To (since 1986). You’re welcome.

Grade for The Cove: Twilight stars