Saturday, August 22, 2015

Tenacity - And Why Books Need a "Cliffhanger" Alert

Seldom has a book irritated me as much as J.S. Law’s debut novel Tenacity.  And that is saying a lot, because over a lifetime of reading, I have been exposed to some real stinkers.  So what makes Tenacity stand out?

Well, how about this?  The thriller is intended to introduce a character that will continue on in a whole series of books about her exploits as an investigator in Britain’s Special Investigation Branch’s “Kill” Team.  In layman terms, that means that she is a homicide detective who works on cases involving military personnel.  Nothing wrong with that and, in fact, that is a proposition just different enough to intrigue readers who might be a bit bored with the more usual crime fiction environments out there.

But Danielle “Dan” Lewis, God bless her heart, is a slow learner.  The book opens with a bit of Dan’s backstory, a story in which her stubbornness and failure to trust her team enough to have someone provide backup for her almost got her killed.  Only her physical agility and a whole lot of luck allowed her to survive a physical confrontation with the serial killer she and her team were trying to identify.  But did she learn anything from that escapade…you know, maybe about making sure a backup is in place next time she goes snooping in an isolated place?  Apparently not, because Tenacity ends (if you can call it an ending – more on that in a minute) just about where it begins: with Dan Lewis fighting for her life, alone, in a desperate situation in which she has no right to expect that she will survive. 

Law does a good job in developing the Dan Lewis character.  Despite my low opinion of her common sense and ability to recognize death traps, I think I understand the character and what makes her do such stupid things.  The author even managed to give a little depth to two of the book’s side-characters, a couple of men who try desperately to protect her from herself but are so frustrated with her that they have just about had it.

Submariner and Author J.S. Law
Much of Tenacity takes place within the confines of a nuclear submarine in which Dan has inserted herself as the only female on board – with predictable results.  I enjoyed learning about  the day-to-day routines in that kind of environment and a little bit about what makes submariners tick.  They are a special breed, and Law, being one of them, knows what he is talking about and it all seems very real.  That is the real strength of Tenacity because the plot, although interesting, is not all that surprising.  But just when I was prepared to give the book a 3.5-star rating, I read the last few pages.  And exploded.

The book has no ending.  It just abruptly stops after setting up a cliffhanger that will presumably lead to Book Two of the Dan Lewis series.  No, no, no…that does not work.  I consider it less than honest to pull this stunt unless the publisher slaps a warning label on the book cover so that I can decide up front whether or not I want to invest five or six hours of my life in reading such a book.  This is the kind of literary misstep that, in my estimation, is worth at least a one-star deduction on any book.  Reader beware.

(Advance Reader’s Edition of the book provided by the publisher for review)

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  1. I just ran into this problem with Mercy Falls by William Kent Krueger. I liked the book, but it had no ending either. Clearly, the author expected me to read his next book. I don't like that either. When I finish a book, I want it to be done. I did enjoy the story, though, so I went back to the beginning of the series and read Iron Lake. It had an ending, so I hope the author just hasn't gotten tricky as the series went on. That I won't stand for!

    1. I agree, Joan. I don't mind an open ending, one that lets the reader choose which way it probably ended, but deliberately setting up a cliffhanger is out of bounds, IMO. You already know that the hero is going to ultimately prevail, so there is really no suspense involved, certainly not enough to get me anxious to read the next book in the series. As you can tell, my reaction is, in fact, the exact opposite. I doubt that we are alone. This old technique should have gone out with the death of all that pulp fiction that was so popular at one time.