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I've noted before that I like trying books by authors I've not read before as it's a good way to dig out some little gems that might otherwise pass you by. The downside, of course, is that you might have to wade through a lot of literary sludge to find that one golden nugget. Wrong Man Running by Alan Hruska is more sludge than sparkly thing.
When a series of women he knows are attacked and raped in horrific circumstances, suspicion slowly starts to fall on Rick Corinth, an Assistant District Attorney in New York. Rick must attempt to prove his innocence or face losing everything he holds dear.
That Wrong Man Running doesn't really do anything new, I can forgive. There are a lot of books out there which are highly derivative, but perfectly acceptable. It's harder to stomach, though, when a book is both derivative and dull.
The book is rather turgid and pedestrian in its pacing. Even though the actual plot progresses at a reasonable pace, it somehow contrives to feel slow. There's no sense of excitement or danger. When I read a thriller, I want it to have me on the edge of my seat. I want to feel a very real sense of threat to the main character and fear for their very existence so that when they get out of a tricky situation, you are almost as relieved as they are. In other words, I want a thriller to thrill. Is that really too much to ask? Wrong Man Running appears to think so.
Things are not helped by the fact that the characters are incredibly shallow and clichéd and (like the plot) rather dull. They are identikit characters who you could find in pretty much any book of this kind. Once again, that's not necessarily an issue. Sometimes predictable, comfortable characters are a good thing freeing the author of the need to do much by way of character development and allowing him to get on with the plot. Unfortunately, because the plot is so boring, it merely exposes the flaws in the characters.
As if things already weren't bad enough, Strike Three comes with the actual writing itself. Hruska has a very odd writing style. The book is told from the first person perspective of Rick Corinth. In theory, this should make things much more emotional, since we can witness firsthand the inner turmoil which each new suspicion or accusation brings. Unfortunately, Hruska appears incapable of writing "emotion" and Corinth comes across as a rather self-pitying pathetic individual that you wouldn't mind seeing locked up, even if he is innocent. There's just no emotional engagement there at all. With his pitiful bleating on behalf of his main character, Hruska lost me very early on and never did anything that came remotely close to winning me over.
Worse still, some of the writing is seriously sub-standard. I'm not really clear what style Hruska was aiming for, but at times it reads like a really bad pastiche of 30s noir detective novels. At one point, I seriously began to wonder if I was reading the whole thing wrong and it was actually a parody of the Sam Spade type books. That's how bad the writing is. It would come as no surprise if you discovered that this book formed the basis for an episode of a spoof cop show like Police Squad; it is so unbelievably hackneyed and trite. Some sections are filled with unnecessary description, whilst others are so slim they would benefit from a lot more information. Hruska seems totally unable to get it right.
There's not much positive I can find to say about this book, if I'm perfectly honest. On the plus side, I only paid 99p for it, so I don't feel too bad that I didn't enjoy it. Another good point is that now I know I don't enjoy Hruska's style of writing I can give his other books a wide berth. Finally (and mercifully) the book isn't that long and with relatively short chapters, it's not going to take you too long to get to the end of it, so you're not going to waste too much time.
Glancing over at Amazon, opinions tend to be rather mixed. Several reviewers have given it four or five stars, and a similar number have given it one or two, so perhaps this is one of those love-it -or hate-it -titles. If you can pick it up cheap, I guess you could give it a try to see which side of the divide you stand on, but I wouldn't advise spending too much in case you find you agree with me.
As mentioned above, I bought this on Amazon's Kindle Daily Deal for 99p and at that price it was just about acceptable. Normal price for the Kindle version is £3.99 and the paper back is over £5 new. Believe me, there are far, far better books out there for that sort of money, so save your cash and go and buy one of those instead.
Wrong Man Running
Thomas & Mercer, 2012
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012