PRETTY LITTLE DEAD THINGS (Thomas Usher #1)
by Gary McMahon
PUBLISHER: Angry Robot
RELEASE DATE: 4th November 2010
FORMAT: Ebook, 262 pages
Following a car crash in which his wife and daughter are killed, he can see the recently departed, and it’s not usually a pretty sight. When he is called to investigate the violent death of the daughter of a prominent local gangster, Usher’s world is torn apart once more. For the barriers between this world and the next are not as immutable as once he believed. (Goodreads)
Before I go into my full review, I have to make it clear that I am very rarely shocked and I am pretty open to trying any type of book as long as the story is engaging and the characters are written in such a way that you feel something for them.
However, this book left me feeling unsatisfied and rather uncomfortable.
PRETTY LITTLE DEAD THINGS starts off really well and the opening chapter hit me with a punch. The fact that you know this car journey is going to end tragically with Thomas’s wife and daughter both dying, yet you can do nothing but watch the events unfold. You are sitting there, scolding Thomas for even suggesting driving when it is stated that he has been drinking at a party. The chapter ends just before the impact.
It then picks up many years later. The length of time is never defined but at times it seems to change throughout the book. Either that or I just couldn’t understand how long was supposed to have gone by.
Thomas is now doing some sort of freelance protection for a local businessman, by following his wayward daughter. It’s all very humdrum, until the woman and her boyfriend end up at a undesirable estate. From there, things are on a downward spiral for his charge is found dead, hanging from the rafters and her boyfriend is knelt on the floor in a catatonic state.
Everyone suspects the boyfriend, but the appearance of the woman’s ghost, along with two other victims who were killed in the same way, appears at the top of Thomas’s stairs.
From here on in it seems to go along predictably as the main protagonist uses the help of spirits to solve the crime. Yet, the plot seems to go nowhere fast. Thomas seems to saunter along, getting bits and pieces of information, but there was nothing to make me root for him or really care about the plot.
The disappearance of Thomas’s ex-lovers cousins’ daughter somehow ends up being linked to the deaths of the women, but even now I don’t know why.
This was another thing I didn’t really like about the book. Thomas’s ex-lover, Ellen, had little purpose in the book. What didn’t help was the fact that she had a one night stand with Thomas, while his wife was pregnant. It might have been forgiven if Thomas’s marriage was on the rocks or really unhappy, but we are told how happy Thomas was with his wife.
The very unlikable characters could have been forgiven if the plot was strong, but it seemed as though the author wasn’t sure which genre he wanted to follow. The first half was a pretty good supernatural mystery. There were a few good characters who could have been the serial killer. Yet in the second half it was like reading a completely different book. Not to give too much away, but the eventual reveal seemed to come out of nowhere.
It isn’t as if I haven’t read books where ghosts and spirits play an important part in the plot. I really enjoyed J. N. Duncan’s Jackie Rutlidge series and feel he manages to balance the shockingly gruesome scenes perfectly with the investigation. At times, it appeared that McMahon was trying to be controversial for the sake of it and it ended up coming off in bad taste.
McMahon’s writing at times also seems to be trying to build the scene or atmosphere too much. He ends up going overboard and I found myself skipping parts, which is a bad thing when reading a mystery.
By the end of it I felt glad that it was over but also disappointed that nothing was really explained at all. Not the motivations of the bad guy, nor Thomas and if this was something that he had all his life. It left me more confused than when I started.
What started off as an interesting book, descended into a mish mash of a plot with scenes that only seemed to be there to shock. I didn’t like the authors writing and I don’t think I would read anything else by him.
BOOKS IN SERIES ORDER
1. Pretty Little Dead Things
2. Dead Bad Things
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