Some spoilers will follow in this review of Madness and Murder by Jennifer Hilborne (follow her on twitter @JFHilborne) – go off, buy her book (http://www.omnilit.com/product-madnessandmurder-441904-243.html) and then come back here and see if you agree with me. It’s only 3 bucks and you know that you should be supporting indy authors/musicians/artists anyway. Go on, I will wait.
Okay, now that you feel better about yourself for supporting individual creativity I’ll let you know what I thought about the book.
Jenny Hilborne (henceforth known as Jenny, not that I know her in person, but it is just how I roll) has written an extremely readable book in Madness and Murder. By that, I mean that it flows well, is interesting enough to make you want to keep reading it, and keeps you guessing. Readable, to me, is kind of a big deal and a very good thing – reading should be fun, and despite this book’s flaws, it is fun.
Regular readers of my blog know how I feel about characters so much of this review will focus on the characters.
Jenny’s characters are fairly well defined but uninspired for the most part. The two detectives, Mac Jackson and Red Dennis, felt a bit like, well, their names would imply. Mac is a workaholic obsessed with cases that only he believes are the work of a serial killer despite not having any of the hallmarks of a typical serial killer. Red has worked with Mac long enough to trust Mac’s hunches, though I get the feeling that given the choice Red would rather be riding the bench with a Big Mac than sitting on stakeout with Cop Mac.
Judd and Jessica had a Hell of an introduction to me as the reader. I felt for them. I rooted for them. I knew things would be rough on them. Jessica is weary but, despite everything that has happened to her (most of which is just hinted at) seems to hold onto an innocence and naivete with an almost heartbreaking desperation. Judd was a bit underdeveloped, in my opinion. We hear about how tortured he was and how many problems he has had adjusting to the crappy hand life has dealt him but…. we don’t see it.
I also felt like the two main female leads (Alex and Jessica) are a bit interchangeable – one of the characters actually suspects they may be related – so I suppose this was intentional. That relationship angle, by the way, is one of the things I didn’t like about this book. Two people from the opposite sides of the planet are mysteriously related? What is this, Star Wars?
Anyway, back to the characters. Jenny does a great job with the antagonists and sets up more that one character who could be the killer (oh, by the way, this is a thriller, people will be killed – no spoiler there). The most interesting character in the whole book is, to my mind, Anderson Collins. We have lots of reasons to hate him (sexual harassment, sex with stupid needy young employees, cold-blooded businessman, assault on Alex, etc) but he shows a great emotional depth when breaking the news of the attack on Jessica to Alex. He was trying to be decent and do the right thing and it blows up in his face. I almost felt bad for him at that point.
There is also a suave drug dealer who features prominently in the first few chapters wooing and winning Alex before dragging her around the world from New Zealand to the Bay Area in California and disappearing save for his use as an imaginary boogeyman and a neatly tied up loose-end in the final chapter.
The faceless victims of the homicidal maniac were just that – faceless. We never knew any of them until they turned up dead and so it was a bit difficult to feel bad for them, despite the horrific fates which befell them. Strangely, this also lowered the sense of danger I felt for the main characters because bad things were mostly happening to other people and spoken of only after the fact.
I expect all of Jenny’s characters in her next novel to have the level of depth that Anderson Collins does since she has proven she can do it.
Jenny tantalizes us with some very capable descriptions of action as well. I wanted more! I am having trouble wording this next part in a way that doesn’t sound creepy so I am just gonna write it. The sexiest scene she writes is a prelude to a rape scene and the way she handled it and wrote it really made me wish she had written a more intimate scene between two lovers at some point, maybe Ben and Alex just because I think she would be great at it.
Same with the actual violence. The only active violence that stands out to me is the remembered of the killer doing his thing on a poor bartender. I wanted more of it. I wanted to be there as a horrified observer looking over his shoulder as it was happening. I wanted to be uncomfortable in a way that Jenny Hilborne’s writing suggests she can be but for some reason is unwilling to.
Hilborne’s prose is very easy to read and detailed enough to set the stage in the reader’s mind without cluttering it up with unnecessary descriptions. Her dialog flows easily and naturally and, with the exception of Jessica and Alex, each of the characters has their own distinct “voice”. I feel like I could read a line of dialog and know pretty well which character was saying it.
Overall, I may have seemed a bit harsh in this review but I did sincerely enjoy reading it. I will absolutely not hesitate to refer Madness and Murder to anyone looking for nice, well-paced thriller with the caveat that it is a bit “safe”. I am certainly going to read Jenny’s next novel – I am looking forward to it in fact!
I guess if I were to give her one piece of unwanted advice it would be that hopefully in the next one she will let herself go. Be a bit more dangerous and risky. Please Jenny, drive me down PCH in a sportscar with no seatbelt and make me wonder which curve we are going to miss. Make me wonder whether we are going to plummet off into the ocean or slam into a cliff face. You can do it. You have made me a believer in you.
I rate this book a solid 1:00 AM in my arcane rating method.