Fifth Avenue is (apparently, according to Amazon) the "controversial Top 100 Best Seller from Christopher Smith". If ever you needed evidence that marketing people don't actually read/watch the stuff they write about, then Fifth Avenue is it. A fine example of the advertiser's art it might be; a fine example of the author's craft it most certainly is not.
Fifth Avenue focuses on two super-rich businessmen in New York. Former partners, they now harbour deep grudges against each other to the point where their hatred knows no bounds, and spills over in acts of physical violence which have a major impact on their friends, family and employees.
The problems start early on Fifth Avenue. Most stem from the characters Smith has created and there are two particularly major ones.. The first one - always a serious problem - is that the characters are possibly the most unlikeable I have ever encountered. They are arrogant, selfish, unpleasant and downright nasty. Every single one of them hates various combinations of each of the others and seeks to bring about their downfalls and/or deaths. Every single one of them is concerned with nothing more than the misery of those they despite and making even more obscene amounts of money out of it if they can. I accept that the book is supposedly revealing the dark underbelly of New York's super-rich but are there really no even vaguely nice people in New York?
The second issue is that the book never focuses on a single character. It regularly shifts attention between any one of about seven or eight. The lack of a "main" character means you build no emotional bonds with any of them (which compounds the fact that they are all such horrible characters.) Even when one of the major characters is seriously injured, killed, or otherwise in grave peril you just don't care.
Plot-wise, things are also a mess. It's almost as though Smith can't quite decide what he wants to write about, so he throws in something of everything. Ruthless businessmen? Check. Long-hidden secrets? Check. Estranged families? Check. The Mafia? Check. Sordid sex lives? Check. Drug use? Check. Casual violence and killings? Check
... And so the list goes on. Just like the characters, the plot lacks real focus and at times it seems like it's just a load of stuff happening. Sure, there is a reason for it, but you don't actually care. And somehow, Smith keeps this turgid mess going for around 450 pages... 450 pages which are about as exciting as having a boiled egg for tea. You'd think that in all that time he'd ACCIDENTALLY write something worthwhile, but somehow he defies the odds. Fifth Avenue is both confused and boring. In fairness, it does get marginally better towards the end, as the various plots and machinations come to fruition, but it is only a marginal improvement and by the time this happened, the book had lost my interest a long time ago.
So, it's a book full of people I didn't care about doing things I didn't care about to people I didn't care about. Not exactly a good position for a book to find itself in..
And just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, we need to consider Smith's prose. In fairness, this isn't the worst aspect of the book (with so many other things wrong with it, it's not even a contender for the top 5). However, it could, at best, be described as "workmanlike". It's not awful or clunky, but (like the plot) it just doesn't generate any interest or excitement.
He also has a deeply annoying habit of assuming that everyone is familiar with both the terminology of international finance (LBOs, anyone?) and the geography of New York. Areas of the city are referred to with gay abandon and it's just assumed that the reader knows exactly what the author is talking about, their significance and how they link up with other parts of the city. I fully appreciate that Smith is trying to ground his book in reality and that native "Noo Yoikers" will appreciate the accuracy and attention to detail, but it might perhaps come as a surprise to Mr Smith that there are people who DON'T live in New York, so the odd bit of background information might be the teensy weensiest bit helpful.
Fifth Avenue is also ludicrously over-priced. Amazon are rather optimistically asking almost £11 for the paperback, whilst the Kindle edition generally retails somewhere around the £2-3 mark. It's also one of those books that is occasionally offered as a free download (which is how I got hold of it). And even then I felt cheated. If you're really determined to read this and have a masochistic streak a mile wide then, for goodness sake, wait until it's free before you get it.
A good book should make you want to read it; Fifth Avenue is just a load of words on a page. And if you buy the print version, it's just a waste of a good tree.
© Copyright SWSt 2012