Sunday, February 20, 2011
9. The Suspect by Michael Robotham
Well here is the first stinker of 2011. Well, that's a bit harsh. It's not a terrible book. The basic mystery is pretty cool and the guy is a competent writer. The problem is that this is basically the slightly upmarket version of a Jeffrey Deaver, a book that is demographically targetted rather than actually written. And the target? The guilty pussified middle-aged white male of the 21st century. Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself. Before I go off on a rant, I'll give you the basic premise.
Joseph O'Loughlin is a clinical psychologist in London who gets involved in a case involving a young girl found murdered and tortured in a very specific way. Because he works with prostitutes as a side philanthropic effort, the investigating detective comes to him, thinking the victim was a prostitute. It turns out that not only is she not a prostitute, but an ex-patient of the protagonist's. As he digs deeper, more and more is revealed until he himself starts to become the principal suspect. Okay, pretty standard non-detective gets in too deep and has to become detective-like, using his real world skills, to prove himself innocent. It's not bad as these kinds of stories go, with some good twists and turns, rich characters and good locales in and outside of London.
The problem is that to get to that story, you have to dig through pages and pages of whiny, self-indulgent, narcissistic chaff. First of all, the psychologist has early Parkinson's. Bummer. Dick Francis often had characters with a single handicap like this (the wife in the iron lung, the paralysed hand, etc.) and they gnawed at the main character. But they didn't become a major part of the narrative with the guy being a total douche, constantly obsessing over it, not telling his wife and child, nor the detective who is investigating the case, nor none of his colleagues so they all think he is being even more suspicious when his face gets all blank, serial-killer like, and his hands are trembling and he drops things at crucial moments. Even lamer than this though is that the guy also has a way hotter wife than he deserves (but of course she loves him unquestioningly), so he has to fret all the time about the other more alpha males wanting and possibly getting her sexually (his best friend, the plumber, the visiting cops). Oh yeah and his father is a super successful medical doctor and contemptuous of his son for choosing psychology and he has to fret about that every single time he sees his parents even though they are basically quite pleasant.
Look, I agree that we should try to be psychologically aware of ourselves. But there is a point where that just becomes preening self-indulgence and the character in this book goes way over the line. Dude, man the fuck up! You have a hot wife. Good for you. Own it. You are a grown man. Time to move past your parents' disappointment. I think this book was semi-deliberately written this way in an attempt to appeal to female readers. And I think the author is one of those misguided guys who thinks this kind of sensitive shit gets you laid. Lesson to my younger male readers: it doesn't.
But here is the real capper. Along with all this pussified hand-wringing, we also get a super-nasty, titillating gang rape, ripped almost directly from Leaving Las Vegas (in between rounds, they cheered for Man U). This comes in part of the narrative behind the protagonist's ex-prostitute ally, with whom he gets to have an affair (but it's okay because it was just once after he had learned he has Parkinson's and can't talk to his wife about it for fear of showing weakness or some such bullshit), and of course the sex they have is super angelic the first time but then he "takes her" the second round. And of course even though she has been a prostitute since she was 13 at the lowest levels of the game, she is still so hot that when they go out at restaurants everyone stares at her. It's the worst kind of adolescent masculine fantasy dressed up as some kind of profound psychological analysis.
Also, the psychology in the book is actually really simplistic. One of his patients is scared of crossing bridges and comes to his office with a life buoy. And guess what his treatment is? To talk with her about all the stable bridges in the world and going over the safety statistics with her until she is a bit calmer.
I have to admit to being a bit taken in by the packaging. It looked like it would be kind of tough and cold, with a very sparse cover and glowing reviews from (what I mistakenly assume to be more critical) British newspapers like The Sunday Times or the Telegraph. But really, looking closer, which I should have done, I see the majority of those quotes are from Australian papers and even The Australian Women's Weekly, which should have rung some alarms.
The protagonist in this book is the kind of character Patricia Highsmith would have made fun of. Thank god I didn't buy the other book by this guy that was right next to it and also tempting for a dollar.
If you are one of the hordes of pussified males that don't take responsibility for anything and can't fix a flat tire or drive in the snow and you feel terribly guilty about being a white male but still think it makes sense that a super-hot ex-hooker would ultimately sympathize with your sensitivity because you lecture to prostitutes about their safety and you want to revel in your feelings of inadequacy and doubt and impotent frustration towards your parents, then you'll probably love this book.