I read Simon Kernick's first book absolutely years ago, and it wasn't very good. It had what seemed to be a good hook, but it was very flatly written and it didn't really have a pay off to go with the hook. He's banged out another nine or ten books since then, all with jacket blurbs which made me think, oh, that's got an interesting hook, but I always reminded myself of how how disappointing his first book had been and I left them to one side. That was the right call, it turns out, since I've just finished reading his most recent book, and it's just like his first book; interesting basic premise, flat delivery, no pay off.
A lot of what you need to know about what's wrong with it is that it gradually dawned on me that one of the viewpoint characters must be a recurring character, because she had way too much back story and it was being fleshed out in a weird way. So I got curious enough to go and look at the interwebs, where I found a summary of all the previous work. And the summary was way more interesting than reading the actual book. Still, I persevered, thinking that the cold open might lead to a interesting climax.
Not so much. If I had to make a guess at what happened here, I'd say Kernick began with a smash-cut opening scene, and the sketch of an idea of a new character to ruin his recurring character's life, and then just made it up as he went along. This worked for Chandler, because Chandler was a genius and wrote like an angel. Kernick is not a genius, and writes like Andy McNab. The dumbest book I read last year, in many ways, was called Death or Glory: The Last Commando, by a guy called Michael Asher. It was quite magnificently bad prose; I derived a lot of guilty pleasure from marveling at just how wrong a man could go trying to write rip-roaring accounts of hand to hand combat. I gather Asher actually knows a lot about crossing deserts and generally getting by in tight spaces, he just doesn't know how to write about it. Oddly enough, the non-action bits aren't badly put together; workmanlike, but fine. Kernick's prose doesn't even have the saving grace of being cherishably bad. It's just flat, uninvolving and thuddingly obvious.
So it was all a big, irritating waste of my time. I should have chucked it to one side far earlier than I did. I don't know what made me stick with it to the bitter end, other than the stubborn belief that you finish things if you start them. What's irritating is that I had with me a copy of Spies of the Balkans, the new Alan Furst, and I could have picked that up instead at any moment. But no, I went right on banging my head off the wall. Since then I picked up the Furst, and I'm about twenty pages in. There's been more simple reading pleasure on every one of those pages than I found in the whole of the Kernick.
So, this week's Top Tip; avoid Simon Kernick. How he's getting published, I don't know, but there's no need for you to ruin your evenings.