“ Genre: Mystery / Author: Sylvia Nobel / ISBN: 0966110579 / Publication Date: 1998 / Publisher: Nite Owl Books „
Deadly Sanctuary is the first book in (according to the publishers) the "popular" Kendall O'Dell series of books. O'Dell is an investigative reporter who ups sticks and move to Arizona to work on the rundown local newspaper. Whilst there, she is asked to investigate in secret the possibly mysterious disappearance of her predecessor. Whilst probing, she starts to uncover evidence that a surprising number of runaway girls have disappeared in the town, and several have been found dead.
At first glance the plot outline would seem to suggest all the elements are present for a reasonably competent thriller. There's plenty of opportunity for the intrepid reporter to uncover some sordid, dark secrets, get into trouble, escape from perilous situations by the skin of her teeth and generally have exciting and thrilling adventures that will keep the reader interested until the guilty parties are finally revealed. If that's what you're thinking, prepare to be disappointed.
I have to confess that I only decided to read this book because the Kindle edition was made available for free during a promotional period when my Kindle was brand new and I was less discerning about the rubbish that I downloaded onto it! If I'd paid so much as a penny for it I honestly think I would have felt seriously cheated.
O'Dell, it turns out is a rather pathetic lead character and one I truly despised by the end of the book. Almost entirely self-absorbed, she is probably the least convincing investigative reporter since... well, ever. She is too girly and wimpy to convince in the role, constantly requiring various men to bale her out of tight spots and, it would seem, as thick as two short planks.
This might sound a little harsh, but the simple fact is that from an early stage, it's pretty easy to work out not only what is going on, but exactly who the perpetrators are. It's so obvious that most people are going to work it out somewhere between page 50 and page 100. Unfortunately, the book runs to over 350 pages, which is an awful lot of time to keep your interest when you already know what is going on. Oh sure, Noble tries to throw in a few red herrings and a couple of plot twists towards the end, but these are not likely to catch many people out. The whole thing is very formulaic and obvious; yet it takes O'Dell an eternity to make even the most elementary connections, which is incredibly frustrating and robs the book of any sense of tension.
Worse, she appears to be very superficial and shallow. All she really seems to care about is the fact that she has picked up two possible boyfriends within a few days of arriving in the town and agonises over which one is the right one for her. It's a bit like reading Barbie, Private Detective. Maybe you have to be female to appreciate this angle, but as a bloke reading the book, I have to say that it didn't exactly present the most flattering portrait of women.
As if this wasn't bad enough, Nobel has a style that can really grate. There's nothing offensive about it and it's hard to finger exactly what the problem is, but there's just something that's really annoying. It's possibly that her style is so bland and safe. True, there's nothing anyone could possibly take offence at, but neither is there anything to get pulses racing. Even in situations where you would expect a certain amount of tension, Nobel completely fails to capture any sense of excitement. Her writing is the equivalent of lift music. It's not particularly hideous, but somehow it's mildly annoying and you're seriously glad when it stops.
Noble's writing style was so simplistic at times that I honestly though I'd accidentally started to read a children's book, yet Amazon doesn't list it as such, nor does any other website I came across. True, it's described as suitable for everyone from teens to seniors, but that's true of a lot of books. Indeed, it's possibly this that leads to Deadly Sanctuary's dull nature: it's so keen to please everyone that it ends up appealing to no-one at all. It's so sanitised (there's no sex and relatively little violence) that adults will find it tame in comparison with other thrillers on the market, whilst teens are likely to find it dull and slow.
I desperately wanted to like this book. The plot sounded appealing and there were plenty of positive write-ups about it on Amazon. Sadly, I found myself constantly struggling with it. The plot was hackneyed, the characters unengaging, the pacing pedestrian and the story devoid of any sense of excitement. Reading it simply became a mechanical process of working my way through the pages and closing it after the final chapter with a mild sigh of relief. One thing is for certain, the "popular" Kendall O'Dell series has not won itself another fan.
It's slightly unbelievable that this book is still retailing on Amazon for over £12 (the Kindle is a slightly more reasonable £2.79). Personally, if I had the decision again, I don't think I'd even bother with the free version. There are far better written, more interesting and inventive thrillers out there. Deadly Sanctuary feels old and tired, unoriginal and uninspiring. Save your money for a book that deserves it.
Nite Owl Books, 1998
© Copyright SWSt 2012