‘Criticism, that fine flower of personal expression in the garden of letters’ — Joseph Conrad

Before I begin with my review, I wish to emphasise that I like crime novels and have absolutely no issue with drug use in literature. Death, violence, sex, filthy language are not things which bother me in the slightest. If well written, and presented in a meaningful and well researched context, graphic description adds a crucial texture and descriptive element to prose. As I have told the many authors who have contacted me over the last few weeks, I can see the merit in a lot of writing. I’m no longer 14, but I’m happy to read young adult fiction and critique it as though I were. I’ve worked with children, and have younger siblings to whom I used to often read, so I can give an honest opinion on children’s books. While I do not purport to be the biggest fan of every genre, I can offer an open review of the things that I read. I started this blog to review books, not to make authors feel good about themselves. If you would like to read more about the importance of honest reviews for independent authors, you might be interested in reading Why do Independent Authors Need Honest reviews? By C G Ayling.

I recently offered to review a book for an author I connected with through Twitter. Unfortunately, having spent a few days reading the book at my leisure I was forced to admit that I really didn’t rate it very highly. Somewhat more unfortunate however, was the reaction of the author when I said I didn’t like it much. Needless to say I caused a bit of stir.

Anyway, enough of the back story, here is my review:

Poisoned Saints – Ben Coulter

The first thing that struck me about this book was the unnecessary and irrelevant level of graphic detail the author went into in the most peculiar situations:

“He let out a long satisfied moan, and then unashamedly went straight for his still-erect penis. The elasticated snap of rubber, and a smiling glance in its direction, indicated his sperm being safely locked away in their ballooned prison. He then tied a slippery knot and slung it down gracelessly on the floor next to him.”

I do not personally think that there is any need for this level of detail in such a situation. The whole scene takes place following the sexual encounter, and seems sloppy and a little absurd to me. It doesn’t add anything to the scene, it is pure vulgarity detached from any real substance or relevant context.

Still I tried not to get put off by this rather abrupt opening scene (this quote is from the first paragraph) and decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. After all, the author had a lot of positive reviews on Amazon.

I’m sad to say that I do not think it gets any better. The whole book reads as though the author went through with a thesaurus and added verbs to every noun he could find.

The characters are some of the most unlike-able I have ever encountered. Even the ‘good’ guys are utterly repugnant. The level of misogyny emitted by these men is absolutely astounding and makes for a very unpleasant read. One of the most obvious examples of this is in the description of a so called ‘lady of the night’ of whom it is said that “her hair extensions and leopard print bra” were “the most noticeable giveaways to her profession”. This is one of the most bizarre descriptions of a prostitute I have ever read. I would say the most notable giveaway to the lady’s profession would have been the fact that she was ‘snuggled’ in the arms of a man who, really would have to pay a fair amount to get a woman to show him any sort of affection. I felt a strange mixture of embarrassment and repulsion when, the same ‘man’ was depicted shadowboxing to Tina Turner’s ‘The Best’ – it really was one of the most embarrassing scenes I have ever read through. The idea of dangerous drug dealer man jumping up in front of his friends and behaving like this seemed absolutely ridiculous:

“Everyone in the room giggled quietly, like naughty children, but keeping their eyes firmly on the madman that was Billy Marine. He shadowboxed away, each jab in time with the next synth beat, singing along, having the time of his life, the thoughts entertaining his irate mind. Not for the faint-hearted.”

I will go as far as to say that I disliked every character in the book for one reason or another. In fact the only person who seemed to me to be even slightly pleasant at first was the hippy ‘Che’, but I could no longer even take this character seriously, after he declared ‘I’m a lover, man, not a fighter’, yet still chose to get involved in a prearranged fist fight. It was even suggested that all that needed to be done to make him violent was to keep him away from his weed for half an hour. This doesn’t sound like any self proclaimed pacifist I’ve ever met.

Not only did I find them unlikeable, but the characters also seemed far too exaggerated to be taken seriously. Each one appeared as a flat and ridiculous caricature, too muscular, too violent, too beautiful, too handsome, too grotesque or too greasy, the list goes on. They just didn’t even begin to seem like real people, and in a novel which attempts to convey something as real and ugly as drug use and addiction, there really needed to be some real characters.

The storyline itself was also rather disappointing. I’ve read a lot of crime fiction, and in my experience most successful novels will feed the reader tiny bits of information at a time, keeping them interested, but not fully alluding to the entire story until the very end. Part of the satisfaction of reading these sorts of novels is coming to the right conclusion on your own, with the assistance of the author. Poisoned Saints has none of this. The reader is given almost all the information about the crime at the beginning of the book, and then must spend the rest of the time wading through the main character’s vendettas, and his desperate attempts to remain free from the police, before finally being awarded with a, frankly, rather disappointing conclusion. The entire story culminates in a rushed final chapter. The ending, to say the least, is rather abrupt, so much so that the rest of the chapters seem to serve only to set up for a climax which is almost non-existent.

I also feel that there are a lot of issues within the book which could have been dealt with more fully. The harrowing nature of drug use, addiction, and even sibling rape are all glazed over and pushed to the side. The severity of drugs, which in itself is a central theme of the  book, is almost completely lost amongst the binges, blocks of cocaine and ridiculous fight scenes. Even the characters don’t seem to think drug dealing is a very serious business.

In summary, this novel in many ways attempts to be a Tarantino movie with over the top graphic and exaggerated characters, fights and sex scenes. However the novel lacks any of the wittiness and intelligence that underlies the accompanying plot. For these reasons the author failed to captivate me in the slightest and has left me with a sour and unpleasant after taste!

2 thoughts on “‘Criticism, that fine flower of personal expression in the garden of letters’ — Joseph Conrad

  1. Thank you for your honesty and for standing up to the face of someone else’s narcissistic madness. I know it can be hard. I’ve gotten some blow back from the same author, and after reading this review I can clearly say that I’ll not bother reading any of his books.

    Like

    • Thank you for your support. I’m saddened to know that I’m not the only one this has happened to, although it doesn’t surprise me. I wouldn’t recommend anyone ever take the time to read his books. Even if his writing improves, I’m sure his personality will not.

      Like

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