Let me get this out there right away. I enjoyed the book. I paid my money, I felt it was good value for it, and have no regrets. Did it live up the hype? Is that even possible? Is it one of those must-read books I will return to in the future? Probably not, but neither is it one I will dispose of, just in case I change my mind upon reflection.
The thing about hype is that it raises expectation to levels so high it’s almost impossible for the book to live up to it. Very few are able to withstand the pressures of that demand. The hype for Thirteen was largely based around the book’s basic premise, which was indeed intriguing. The writing was excellent. The characters were mostly well-constructed. The storyline was, for the most, part absorbing. What more should I have expected? Too much serial-killer and not enough story, some have said. Me, I like getting into the warped minds of serial-killers, and I appreciate authors who take the time to provide those paths for me to travel.
I read some comments dismissing the book as being implausible. I feel I need to get something off my chest right now: I’m getting a little bit fed up with reviews that knock a book in terms of its plausibility or authenticity. Most authors these days try to get real things as on the mark as they can feasibly be. But at the end of the day, this is fiction. It’s made up. It’s the same as people going along to a blockbuster action-adventure movie, only to tut all the way through and remark every five minutes, “Well, that would never happen in real life.” Yeah, too true it wouldn’t. It’s not a documentary. It’s not supposed to reflect real life, its intention is to remove you from your real life for a short period of time.
It’s the same thing as complaints regarding a lack of authenticity. ‘Oh, that police station wouldn’t have a canteen in it’. ‘No way a New Mexico sheriff would be carrying a Glock as his sidearm.’ ‘I know for certain that all Las Vegas detectives are compelled to have moustaches as part of their employment contract.’ Okay, so I may have gone a tad too far with that last one, but my point is, should we really care to the nth degree? Say you have ten thousand readers. How many of them are going to know that a New Mexico police officer will carry a S&W pistol as opposed to a Glock or a Sig? Sure, you may try to be accurate, but if you slip up and mention the wrong sort of weapon, is it really such a critical issue that you deserve to get marked down for it? Of course, if you say someone was shot by a bayonet, or stabbed with a shotgun, then you deserve all the flack you receive. But let’s allow a degree of flexibility, please.
So yes, certain aspects of Thirteen may be a little implausible and lack authenticity, but this is a crime thriller and a work of fiction. If crime and thriller authors stuck rigidly to all known facts, then every case would have to wait 6-8 weeks for DNA results, budgetary meetings would have to be described in minute detail, and a couple of years could pass between arrests and trials.
Of course, everyone is a critic these days. It’s probably always been that way, but there was a time not so long ago that you’d never have known how readers felt. The popularity of Amazon and Goodreads, plus of course social media, means that every critic now has a platform. There are no editors around to strike out the more unrestrained or unrealistic remarks. An American review of one of my books bemoaned the fact that it wasn’t a proper crime thriller because it had no car chases and shootouts. I wouldn’t mind, but it happened to be a book which actually did include one of each. Going back to Thirteen, I read a Facebook comment complaining about it being ‘too American’. Huh? An American lawyer in an American city during an American trial – what were they expecting?
I don’t know Steve Cavanagh, I’ve never met him, and I doubt he knows I exist let alone has bothered to read any of my books, but I respect the man’s talent and he has knocked it out of the park with this new one. I’ve read two books in this series now, and have thoroughly enjoyed both. This is an author to watch, as I suspect his greatest moments are ahead of him. All I hope is that he, along with all of us who write, are judged not for our unquenchable thirst for research and our endless quest for authenticity and plausible storylines, but for the enjoyment readers get out of the books we write and the time and effort we put into them.
Don’t get me wrong, if people have genuine reasons for disliking our work, then that’s fine. If they think the narrative plods, or they don’t like particular characters, then so be it. No writer can please everybody. What I’m really asking for is some understanding. I do believe the onus is on us as writers to get as much of real life right as we possibly can, albeit within the boundaries imposed upon us in terms of copyright and libel. But at the same time, I hope readers can enjoy our books for what they are: fiction novels – imagination included.