Disclaimer: this is by no means a book review, more like an author review. *Spoiler alert.
Recently I was in New Orleans. In June, to be exact. The weather was perfect. Not too humid, but hot enough to remind me it was summer in The Crescent City. My sister was in town at a conference and I had volunteered to go with. I had arrived three days early and familiarized myself with the city, the streets, the locations of places we both wanted to try/see (Café Du Monde was the first on my list). Taking in the sights and sounds and feel of the city, if ya know what I’m talking ‘bout. That sultry, southern, soulful feel, like everyone’s your best friend.
I had always wanted to go to New Orleans for many reasons, but also because a favorite author of mine, Lisa Jackson, set her books in The Big Easy. I found myself wandering around, seeing things she described in Hot Blooded and Cold Blooded; Jackson Square, the French Quarter, and the Riverwalk, not to mention the Jazz music and Mardi Gras crowds. At night though, after perusing Bourbon Street and strolling around the city streets, I returned to the hotel and my nook—though I prefer an actual book with pages to turn and smell and feel, it was an easy purchase on the plane ride down. I dove right in the first night.
Five months later, I’m still not done. Yes, I may have two jobs and write myself, however, I read. A lot. I try to read at least two books a week. I have been reading Ms. Jackson since about 2003 when my dear, late, grams had purchased one of her books for me (See How She Dies).
I used to read her books voraciously. Every time a new one was released, I was there the first day (If She Only Knew, a standalone book, was an excellent psychological thriller). Her New Orleans books were detailed; I could see smell the crawfish, taste the beer, feel the Mississippi humidity on my skin. Everything. The whole world she had created. Ms. Jackson’s characters were drawn out, real people. Someone I wanted to be friends with, someone I could bump into on the street: Dr. Sam, Ty Wheeler, Olivia, Bentz, Montoya, Abby. Their dialogue crisp and engaging. They had backbones you could count on. The plot made sense. Questions and loose ends were tied up unless they continued in another book, but even if that occurred they were noted by the detectives that they “weren’t tied up.” And pacing made sense. Every page, every scene had a reason.
[However, I do roll my eyes every time anyone uses the phrase: in her mind’s eye she saw or in his mind’s eye he imagined. We’re already in the character’s head, right?]
But Ms. Jackson’s most recent books have not been up to the standard she set with the first books in the New Orleans series. Take Devious for example, the one I started in New Orleans and am still not done (10 more pages; ten pages that didn’t grasp me enough to keep me from writing this blog post). The characters are flat (even the recurring characters), the plot lacks believability—all the novices in the convent are falling hopelessly in love with a priest?—not to mention the killer going on for pages explaining herself—I apologize, but I did warn of spoilers. The world Ms. Jackson described in this book of the series did not feel like New Orleans, or at least the New Orleans she described in previous books.
I think the point I put the book down is when the killer hissed something into the phone/voicemail. NOTE, I’m big on dialogue because a) it’s damned hard to write and b) I’ve been told I write dialogue very well. I thought Ms. Jackson had done okay up until she spelled out the “hiss” as nexxxxxxt and essssssscaaape in the actual quote of dialogue when she could have used a proper dialogue tag to let us readers know what she meant, such as: the voice came out in a hiss, lingering on the S’s. To me, this is just as bad as seeing all capital letters in dialogue.
These two No-No’s just show the reader what a weak writer she is. She should have started with saying how the voice sounded like a snake’s hiss, something other than resulting to teenage angst-like spelling such as, OMG, he’s sooooooo hotttt. And what’s worse is she didn’t do it just once, it was peppered throughout the scene and then also later in the book and I couldn’t help but groan and skip over it whenever I saw it.
Another thing about Ms. Jackson’s latest work that has changed is the character development. They used to feel like real people with real emotion and real thoughts and real situations. They had things at stake that seemed to have a big effect on their thought processes, on the way they made decisions. Now they’re sort of like these puppets she puts in situations and walks them through scenes. Marionettes. Dolls. At no point do I actually care for these characters, which is very sad because I loved her previous characters.
Why am I telling you about this? I had to get it off my chest:
I felt cheated. As a reader, she might have just lost me (and I didn’t even touch on the whole nun/religion/sin/murder thing she’s been overdoing in the last four books or so). And as a writer, I found so many mistakes it has me wondering if maybe her editor has relinquished his/her duties and just sent the books on through as they come to him/her. Or perhaps she has a ghost writer.
I may sound a bit harsh, but the last two or three of her books left me scratching my head. Ms. Jackson may have lost me as a reader with Devious.
Whew! Glad I got this off my chest.