Ross, Jack - 'Requiem'
REQUIEM isn't a bad thriller by any means: it is short, swift, easy to read and has the makings of a sizzling plot. However, whoever teaches "thriller writing 101" should include type-examples by Lee Child and Dick Francis as part of the course. These two authors write (wrote) exciting, lean, plot-driven, stories, which although formulaic are made stronger by their attention to detail and character - creating "series loyalty" among readers. I haven't the least interest in an ex-Army drifter wandering round the USA, or in horse-racing, but I love Lee Child and Dick Francis. These authors care how they write, showing respect for their readers, and are deservedly appreciated by loyal fans in return.
REQUIEM has a great set of ingredients. There is Deborah, the feisty, beautiful (of course) African-American heroine: she is a gutsy divorced woman, fighting prejudice and a tough past in steamy Florida, determined to make it as a journalist on the Miami Herald. There is Sam Goldberg, managing editor of the paper: widowed, a cynical realist, yet wanting to stand out as a force for good in the real world of media moguls and political deals. There is Joe O'Neill, playboy son of Florida senator Jack - just how depraved was this golden youth? And there is William Craig, Second World War hero, on death row in the state prison at Railford, who Deborah is determined to interview in his last remaining days.
It is a powerful mix of politics, corruption, soap opera, racism, terrorism and sexism. It should work. But the parts don't quite combine to make a truly convincing whole. Why does Sam allow Deborah to follow the story of Craig, telling her not to reveal her assignment to anyone other than him - only to let himself be talked out of running her stories by his spineless superior? Why aren't other journalists and lawyers onto the story of Craig the instant that Deborah finds the crucial crack in the case against him? I can believe in institutionalised corruption, but total silence isn't believable when crucial evidence is in the public domain, fair game for anyone out to make a name or a quick buck for themselves. And the characters - well, they need work. Deborah's ex-husband is one of several who, though potentially interesting, turn out to be cardboard.
REQUIEM is billed as the first of a series. All the ingredients are there for exciting future outings for this likeable and brave heroine, who doesn't let anyone stand in her way. But this first story is rather flat - for example, the newspaper setting, once introduced to the reader, is non-existent. Elaine Viets in her Francesca Vierling series of four novels wrote insightfully and amusingly about an independent-minded journalist out of line with the paper's managers, determined to follow stories she thought important whatever the consequences. There is more newsroom atmosphere in one page of a Francesca Vierling book than there is in the whole of REQUIEM.
The book shows potential; there is space in this market for a heroine like Deborah, and the condemned man Craig is a convincing portrayal. But more thought is needed to create an individual plot with believable characters - there is no comparison between REQUIEM and the first Lee Child or Dick Francis. Let's hope that in the next outing, the players become more like characters and less like representations of attitudes. Even James Patterson, who now churns out embarrassingly poor material, took care to write nail-bitingly exciting thrillers in his early days of being published.
Maxine Clarke, England