23 January 2009

Review: Criminal Minds: Finishing School by Max Allan Collins

Here is one true thing about me: I'm a book snob. I like to think that I'm not a book snob because I enjoy fantasy and I've read and enjoyed Science Fiction and I read a fair bit of young adult fiction. But the fact is, I'm a book snob about MOST science fiction and MOST fantasy and an awful lot of young adult novels and I'm a book snob about pretty well all the genres you can think of when it comes to genre fiction. I hold the general assumption that genre fiction is poorly written and badly plotted, that the characterization is weak and that most of it has no reason for existing. (As in, it doesn't entertain me, so how could it possible entertain anyone else?) My book snobbery gets even worse when it comes to genre fiction based on a television show. So I'm not quite sure how I came to find myself buying a novelisation of Criminal Minds. But I did.

I imagine that where there is one novel based on the tv show, there will be other novels based on the show. But this particular novel, Finishing School by Max Allan Collins, takes the BAU team to Minnesota where the bodies of three blonde teenage girls have been found buried in the woods. As in any television episode, they use their skills as profilers to figure out and catch the person who has killed the girls.

Opening paragraph:
The first rays of a November sunrise peeked over the horizon as if making sure the coast was clear before the sun gave up its cover. In his deer stand, fifteen feet up and wedged into a triangle of aspen trees, William Kwitcher looked down through the tightly bunched thicket, his breath visible.
Naturally since the book takes place in the Minnesota forest in November, the team is shown on the cover standing in a desert in summer. And that's only the first of the disconcerting things about this book.

Other disconcerting things: The characterization. Including, oh my god, the obsessive Rossi love. Nearly every character (outside of the team) exclaimed over him and his books. I know that's a part, a small part, of the show – his having fans – but the place it takes in the book reads almost like the author only saw one episode, say Rossi's first when they were trying hardest to get across the idea that Rossi is one of the originals of the BAU and one of the most well known. Or you could look at Garcia (who the author refers to as zaftig, vomit), who is made virtually a non-entity except when Collins mentions that she's flirtatious, and then… doesn't make her flirtatious.

The obsession with the appearance of the characters and the clothes that they wear. Virtually every character appears in any given scene with a run-down of the day's outfit. Morgan wears a lot of mock turtlenecks. Rossi wears geometric ties at least twice. Reid looks like a prep school student. It drove me nuts because I just can't see what purpose the descriptions served. If you want the cop to seem like a laid-back guy, don't just make him wear jeans and yesterday's button-down plaid shirt, show him behaving in a laid-back fashion, you know?

But setting aside that, there is also the lame dialogue including this exchange, which belongs to that last moment before the intro and/or first commercial break on CSI when Grissom throws out his zinging one-liner:
As he led [the unsub] away, Morgan said, "You must be a hell of a forester, [Unsub.]


"You sure know how to spread fertilizer."
Um, yeah. I can totally imagine that coming out of Morgan's mouth, except not. And setting aside the dialogue, there's just this really corny undertone to the writing. He says things like only to have it go to h-e-double l or [random character] wore many hats (which is a pet hate of mine, so far as phrases go). Or mentions how Prentiss keeps from feeling terminally gross, which… am I reading a book by, for and about 14 year old girls? There's a reference to the time when Reid first felt like a man.

It wasn't a terminally terrible book. I mean, it wasn't well-written or characterized and I really don't see the point, but the actual unraveling of the crime, figuring out the motivation and how and why it was done wasn't so bad. I'd figured out a couple of things from the outset, which the BAU team didn't piece together until near the end, but the actual mystery part of the book wasn't bad. It wasn't great, mind, but I've read worse crime novels and I've read worse mystery. I've spent worse hours reading more celebrated books. I finished it in two afternoons because it was obviously, bad bits aside, compelling enough to keep me interested. It wasn't one of those books that makes me not want to read the last chapter because I'm not prepared for it to end (and god, I love books like that) but it was good enough that I didn't just toss it over for something, anything else. So I guess that's a good thing. I think I'll probably better manage to avoid buying another of these books, if I ever see one again though.

According to Wikipedia, Max Allan Collins is "a prolific American mystery writer who has been called "mystery's Renaissance man"." He has written several novels, including several novelisations of films and television shows, including CSI and CSI: Miami. He's also written two other Criminal Minds novels, Jump Cut and Killer Profile. He's also the author of Road to Perdition, the graphic novel which was turned into a film starring Tom Hanks.

Collins, Max Allan. Criminal Minds: Finishing School. Toronto: Obsidian, 2008.
Finished: 20 January 2009
Rating: 3 of 5 girls wrapped in plastic
This was my 3rd book in January, and my 3rd in 2009.

*Psst... my ratings are numbered 1-5, meaning something like 1=sucky, 2=meh, 3=okay, 4=good, 5=great.

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