At work we have a staff picks shelf and it's very popular - I love putting books that I've enjoyed on the shelf and passively introducing them to new readers. Some of us have been joking that we should have an Anti-picks shelf, or a Do Not Read shelf, but of course that would never work because one person's pick is another person's poison and so on. However, if there was one, I'd put Ripper by Isabel Allende face out on the middle shelf so everyone would know in one easy glance that this is one to skip.
I didn't start off thinking this way, of course. I haven't read all of Isabel Allende's books, but I've read at least three (Eva Luna, Daughter of Fortune, and Zorro) - enough to know she's good and to make me excited to read something outside of her usual area. I was so looking forward to it, which only makes me feel silly now - but I'm trying to set aside that feeling and use my knowledge to warn others.
THIS POST IS YOUR WARNING.
On the surface, what could go wrong? The marvelous Ms. Allende writing a thriller set in San Francisco? Sign me up! Alas, it was not meant to be between me and this book - we had an extreme lack of book/reader chemistry. Let me compile a partial list:
1. The main character's name is Indiana Jackson, she is a 'white witch' healer/ reiki massage therapist, aromatherapy expert, etc. All of that is fine, but Indiana Jackson for a name is not. I was waiting the whole book for her father (also a character) to say "we named the DOG Indiana" but it never happened. She is patient, kind, and true of heart with messy blonde hair and a big butt, because of course. I read something that suggested Allende did this to offer a counterpoint to the usual tough crime lady, but this was just as cliche in its own way.
2. her 17 year old daughter is a beautiful (but doesn't know it) computer genius who is running an online game called Ripper. She and various characters from around the world solve crimes related to the game, until she decides to start solving crimes closer to home. How does she do this? ...
3. Her father (Indiana's high school boyfriend who knocked her up when she was 15) just so happens to be a police inspector. A police inspector who has no problem talking about current investigations and sharing crime scene photos with his teenaged daughter. (and apparently doesn't mind if she shares this info with her online gaming group.)
4. SO MUCH BACKSTORY. In historical novels, I get it. In a thriller, it kneecaps the momentum if every time any character tries to cross the page, first they have to unload their entire life story, work history, and opinion of the white witch (if they have one) before they are permitted to perform their plot related duties.
5. The book was almost 500 pages, and I don't think the plot really started moving at all until after page 300.
6. Most characters are paper thin, the cliches run the gamut from borderline offensive to straight up offensive.
7. When the plot finally started creaking into motion I thought "Oh my god, the killer better not be XYZ because it is way too obvious"
8. Guess who the killer was!
9. There's a former Navy Seal who is also romantically interested in/obsessed with Indiana (like every other man in the book), he's also a computer expert and CIA/NSA freelancer (of course), who performs constant acts of physical endurance like swimming in the bay in winter and riding his mountain bike to Mars. But it's not enough that he's a Navy Seal, he's not just from an elite unit, he's from Seal Team Six!! He's got a prosthetic leg and a retired active duty dog named Attila, who has metal teeth. (Attila should have his own book and get himself as far away as possible from the rest of this mess.)
10. Did I forget to mention Indiana's rich, much older winery-owning playboy boyfriend? Because she has one. He takes her to art galleries and the opera where she makes him feel young and virile again because he gets to explain things to her like the droning docent boyfriend every woman wishes she had - he loves the contrast of his cerebral culture blah blah to her earthy white witch blah blah so much and this works so well for him he doesn't have to take pills for his erectile disfunction. (!!! ) (my eyes will never be the same after reading the limp/tumescent history of the playboy boyfriend.)
11. I was explaining the plot to a friend who had expressed interest in the book, and he said it sounded like a Jackie Collins novel from the 80s. I have yet to hear a more perfect encapsulation.
12. There is a plot device kitten in this book and she is saddled with the name Save-the-Tuna. Kitten, you should get your own book with Attila and the first thing you should do is ride your motorcycle to the animal courthouse and change your name. I bet the two of you would be better crime solvers, all things considered.
13. I'm not even listing some of the most egregious plot devices because I don't want to spoil anything if for whatever reason this does sound good to someone. But trust me - it's not so bad that it's good, it's just a long slog to the point where the book has finally run out of pages. I would have quit it much sooner if it hadn't been Allende.