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The Poet - Michael Connelly
Member Name: SWSt
The Poet - Michael Connelly
Advantages: Some moments when it showed promised
Disadvantages: Tired, hackeneyed plot; deeply unlikeable characters
I picked this book up by mistake. I'd recently read the excellent Bad Men by John Connelly and picked this up thinking it was by the same author (look, they both shared the same surname, OK?!) When I realised my error, I wasn't too down-hearted because the plot synopsis on the back cover suggested that it was the type of murder-thriller that I enjoy reading... I guess that means I got it wrong twice.
When his cop brother apparently commits suicide, newspaper reporter Jack McEvoy refuses to believe it and uncovers evidence that suggests he was murdered. Moreover, he uncovers other, similar cases which suggest a serial killer is picking off homicide detectives who fit certain specific criteria. Needless to say Jack starts to investigate, only to find that by doing so, he draws the killer's attention onto himself.
The book doesn't have much originality and simply rehashes plotlines that have been done before and have been done better: a serial killer who has successfully hidden his activities from the police, but who yearns recognition and leaves little clues to taunt them; a group of FBI agents hunting him down, whilst allowing an outsider to tag along on the investigation; and a personal obsession with a killer that leads to serious consequences when the hunter becomes the hunted. YAWN. I could probably go to my bookshelves and pick off at least a dozen books which explore similar issues, but which are more interesting.
There's a serious issue with the plot's credibility. Would the FBI really allow a reporter unfettered access to all the facts of a story, just because he threatened to release details that could potentially tip off the killer? Surely they'd be more likely to threaten him with prison? The idea of a reporter tracking down a killer and starting a cat-and-mouse game with him is also rather far-fetched. It's not that I've got anything against the basic idea; it's more that Connelly never convinces me that these events are feasible within the context of the book.
The Poet also feels somewhat dated. In fairness, it was written back in 1996, so that is inevitable. However, it feels like it is a product of its time more than many other books that were written during the same period. For example, Connelly clearly likes his books to feature up to the minute technology and talks with glee about databases that can search entire news archives, or the ability to dial into his office network and email by plugging his computer into a telephone point. Woooo! In these days of wireless, 3G access to data anywhere, anytime, this makes the book look prehistoric!
In fairness, it would be wrong to criticise the book for feeling dated purely on technological grounds. However, the plot also feels rather hackneyed - even if you place it in the context of when it was written. Silence of the Lambs, for example (which The Poet is desperately trying to ape) was written in the 1980s and still feels fresh and reads well today. You could compare the two books to cheese: Silence of the Lambs is still a delicious piece of Brie - something that gets better as it gets older. The Poet has been lurking at the back of the fridge and is covered in unpleasant green fur and very, very smelly.
There is the germ of a good idea, and there were times when I was intrigued. The trouble was such moments were relatively few and far between. In a book containing 480 pages of fairly small text, I would estimate that it grabbed my attention for less than 100 pages - and even then, that was only in isolated chunks here.
As it is, the book feels very padded out. It takes an eternity to find anything out or for the investigation to move on in any meaningful sense. OK, I appreciate that this is the reality of a proper police investigation; that progress is made in almost infinitesimally small increments and often relies on a large slice of luck. But here's the thing: I read to get away from the tedium of real life, not to have even more of it thrust upon me. The Poet is simply too slow moving and never really engaged my attention.
It could still possibly have salvaged something if it had come up with a decent ending, but it simply manages one which is at the same time predictable and preposterous. Maybe I've just read too many of this kind of book, so I can spot the twist coming a mile off, but this one never had me fooled. Even so, the ending is so ludicrously far-fetched that it almost makes you cry out "WHAT???!" in exasperation.
Something else I struggled to get on with was the lead character who just came across as deeply unlikeable and unsympathetic. Most of us, if we lost a sibling to suicide (particularly a twin) would get on with comforting grieving spouses or parents. That probably goes double if we subsequently found at that they were murdered. Not Jack McEvoy. All he's interested in is getting the exclusive on the story and making sure he gets all the glory. The only time he interacts with grieving relatives is to try and get information from them, or make them do something he wants.
McEvoy is also incredibly boring. The book is told from the first person perspective and he simply comes across as a self-aggrandising whiner who thinks that the world owes him big time. Partly because he is such a moaner and partly because of his incredibly selfish attitudes, I just couldn't warm to him at all. Indeed, I actually found myself warming to the killer more because at least he was actually INTERESTING. Given that he is a convicted paedophile and multiple murderer, this is slightly disturbing. The Poet is not meant to be one of those books where you secretly admire the killer, but that's what it ends up being.
Prior to reading this, I'd never read a Michael Connelly book and, to be honest, there's nothing in here that would tempt me to ever read another one. I'm sure there will be fans out there who tell me that this is not one of his better books and that I should try a different one but to be honest, I think I'll give it a miss.
© Copyright SWSt 2012
Summary: Next time I'll make sure I pick up the right Connelly!