Saturday, June 5, 2010

Why I Cast Aside The Devil's Punchbowl


I fell in love with Greg Iles because of the radio.

It was a Friday afternoon and I was driving home from work, all 2.2 miles, when I heard an ad for his novel, Spandau Phoenix.  I was intrigued enough by the premise to stop by the bookstore on my way home.  I don't remember what I had planned that weekend, but it wasn't important as I cracked open the paperback and followed Iles wherever he planned to take me.

I secretly suspected Iles was really John Grisham a la Richard Bachman.  (Despite evidence to the contrary, I'm not convinced.)

pounced on his second book when it came out.  I didn't like as much but still appreciated it, and I was more than a little grateful that his next novel wasn't a WWII thriller. 
 
I've read nearly every novel Iles has written, and I've liked them to varying degrees.  His website touts his ability to write in multiple genres, which benefits both the reader and the writer.  However, I was really creeped out by the lasciviousness of the characters in Turning Angel — which is unexpected, as I enjoyed the "psychosexual" thriller Mortal Fear.  Perhaps the consensual age of the characters was a mitigating factor for me.  No matter.  I decided to take a break from the author to get the bad taste out of my mouth.
  
I picked up The Devil's Punchbowl to take another trip with Iles.  It lasted all of 120 pages.  I don't know if I like Penn Cage anymore.  In this book, his voice sounded insincere and his language was stilted and overly-analytical, as though we all had to be brought up to speed on his character's life in this series.  (I have seen it done more successfully, namely in Stephanie Plum novels.)  Also, he sounded like a weepy teen overly obsessed by his failed love affairs.  That's a shame because I liked Penn and his relationship with his father.

Finally, the story felt formulaic: the hero is held accountable for another person's failures and has a set time period in which to find a solution, or her/his best-loved supporting characters (innocent, loving, undeserving of pain and death) will meet their demises.  Thanks to another high-profile author who has used that formula for every novel, I am jaded by it.

Long story short, I'm shelving this Iles novel for the time being.  I'll get a few more books under my belt, perhaps a classic or two, then try another one — maybe True Evil.  However, I won't rush into it.  I want to like Grish — er, Iles — again, and I'll take my time so the timing is right.

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