Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Ivy League Chronicles: 9 Squares (Review)

I picked up The Ivy League Chronicles: 9 Squares for two reasons. First, it is set at Yale University and features a former Scotland Yard detective now professor (academic mystery!).  Second, it fulfills the "Book Published in 2013" category for the Book Bingo Challenge.  The premise intrigued me and I was interested in the character of Richard Wikki, the former detective who is now teaching for Yale's law school.  The time period--the 1920s--was also a big draw. 

Wikki becomes friends with Maize Judson, daughter of a local newspaperman and a young woman preparing for her freshman year at Yale.  Maize dreams of becoming an investigative reporter and following in her father's footsteps.
Things get interesting when Maize and her friend Leslie have a picnic at the beach that results in the discovery of a long-buried skeleton with a strange amulet in its hand.  Her father consults Wikki in his efforts to report the news, but Maize is the one who works with Wikki to solve the mystery.  Their search takes them to various historical sites in Connecticut--site connected to witches and the occult.  It seems that there are mysterious forces at work--forces that may have been responsible for the death of the man whose skeleton was found on the beach as well as responsible for disrupting lives in the present.

Unfortunately, the book did not live up to my expectations. The writing varies from stilted to jumpy.  Prescott begins telling the reader about Richard Wikki's tragic background and then just stops--leaving the reader hanging.  She jumps from character to character, telling bits and pieces about them in a way that I imagine she thinks will keep the reader wanting more.  Well, kindof, but not in a "oh, this is so great; you must give me more" way.  More of a "could you please just get on with telling us about these people" kind of way....And then there are the historical bits and pieces that just get shoved in willy-nilly--the local Pastor gives a tidy little history of the church at dinner, a member of a secret society references his membership in the Elihu Society at Yale and, darn, if we don't have to give a full run-down of when it was founded and by whom and why he came to America and whatnot.   The novel tends to run in this pattern: introduce characters, historical info-dump, a bit of action, historical info-dump, a bit more action, oooh look another historical info-dump, and so on.  Good writers work their research into the story in a convincing way that actually moves the plot along....poor writers produce lectures that are awkwardly inserted throughout the novel.

The manuscript could definitely have used a lot more editorial attention than what it seems to have received.  Many, many unfortunate word choices sprinkled throughout-- instances of just plain not the right word.  One doesn't recline to another room--although one might recline once one got there; if one is speaking cheerfully and enthusiastically to a guest, then one most certainly is not lamenting to them;  and so on. [And, by the way, lamented is apparently Prescott's favorite word--it appears (sometimes used properly, sometimes not) repeatedly throughout the story.]  There is also the tiny little matter of a former British subject sounding WAY too American and possibly too American of the 1960s or later.  Would an Englishman really say "Cool....just like in the movies" (in the 1920s????).  And is it just me or does it seem a bit strange to have someone in the 1920s talking about a "database"?

If it's possible to write in a monotone, then Prescott has managed it.  The story is flat.  When the girls discover the skeleton there is no real emotion. Even though Prescott tells me that Leslie was startled, there isn't anything in the description that makes me believe it. I don't feel like Maize and Leslie are shocked or repulsed or, well, anything.  They just found it.  Eek.  Oh no.  What shall we do?  Despite the fact that someone is following the detective around throughout the second half of the book and someone actually gets killed while trying to warn the detective, there is no sense of urgency or emotion.  None of the events that should produce a response in the reader do.  Things just happen, and then we move on.  Then there's the habit of beating the reader over the head with a clue (for goodness sake, pay attention will you?  This right here is a CLUE with a capital "C" and blinky, neon lights and everything).  The reader isn't just presented with evidence--we're told in no certain terms that this piece of evidence is a BREAKTHROUGH.  By golly, the detective from Scotland Yard is so dazzled with it that he reacts more strongly than a girl finding a skeleton in the sand.  And still reads like it's written in monotone.

There are so many things wrong with this novel....the plot jumps around and is unrealistic. The reader is dropped into scenes and various characters just sort of pop up out of nowhere and we're supposed to believe it all--apparently because the plot involves "Chaos Theory" and witches and amulets and such.  That would be fine if Prescott had managed to lay a reasonable foundation to get us to believe such things--but she doesn't.  What's worse, she makes her lead detective--Lord/Professor/Detective Wikki (pick which one you want, 'cause she can't make up her mind and sometimes uses them all at once herself) willing to believe such things.  And him a former Scotland Yard Detective.  [snort]  That said--at no point does Richard Wikki convince me that he was ever a Detective for Scotland Yard.  His investigative procedures leave a lot to be desired and he relies very heavily on a just-graduated high school girl for an awful lot of his information.  At its most unbelievable, the story has him go randomly driving out in the country and he just happens to stumble upon a huge house that he thinks of as the "Victorian Manor." And, by golly, there are people in that house who knew he was coming, impart mystical knowledge (sortof) to him, and what do you suppose they call the place?  Why, the "Victorian Manor," of course.

Last but not least, virtually none of the threads of this mystery are tied up.  We don't learn who the mysterious HE is (and don't even get me started about the annoying passages where HE is introduced); we only learn the truth of what happened to the skeleton through a convenient afterward; nobody seems to care who the young man was who was trying to warn Wikki and died for his efforts--and we don't learn if HE was responsible or if that was someone else.  We have a modern murder that Wikki just might be able to solve and that's just completely swept away and forgotten.  We are, I imagine, supposed to assume that the mysterious shadow group is responsible for the death and a fire and everything else--but Wikki doesn't really seem all that concerned.  The book ends with Richard Wikki musing that it was "crystal clear to [him] that his investigation was just beginning"--but given his investigative progress in this book, that's not really going to draw me into a sequel. Almost 300 pages and we haven't solved much of anything.

Overall--a very annoying and disappointing read.  There were many instances where I had to go back a few pages to see if I had missed something because all of a sudden the characters were talking about something OR to someone that/who wasn't in the conversation just a minute ago.  There's a lot to be said for transitions and the proper use thereof.  No rhythm to the narrative.  I kept reading mainly because I wanted to count this book for a couple of challenges and I was really hoping to have more answers at the end.  One star.

I rarely write such a completely negative review, but I just can't help myself this time.    Even if you are writing about situations that would be unbelievable in the real world, it can work if you make it believable within your own story and can make the reader believe that the characters within the story should believe.  This novel fails on that count.  I don't believe it and I don't believe in a Scotland Yard Detective who apparently believes it.


Peggy Ann said...

Oh we'll, it sounded good, sorry it was a disappointment.

J F Norris said...

Don't tell me -- self-published, right? Hope it was a freebie.

J F Norris said...

I have to share this with you. Taken directly from the author's website: "E.K. Prescott, Ph.D., has been an educator for almost 30 years, and has taught at the college level for the past 15 years. She spent many years as a high school English teacher, middle school principal, and national educational consultant."

Unreal! I don't believe a word of it.

Bev Hankins said...

John...sorry I'm so late responding...I almost mentioned the whole "educator" thing in my review (the blurb on the back of the book mentions such things), but decided I'd already been pretty harsh. The really positive thing about the whole experience? It's made me believe that if this book can see print (and be bought up by my library for circulation, no less), then surely-to-goodness I ought to be able to get mine published once I get it whipped into shape.