Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I'm sorry...

1 out of 5 stars

... I really wanted to like this, I did. After all, even though the premise isn't exactly unique (the spirit of a dead man comes back to enlist the help of someone who can see him in order to avenge his murder) the method in which this particular premise is told is. After all, the ghost is a petty thief and the man who helps him is a shy coroner who really only wants to do his job and be able to collect his antique city maps and be left alone. However, even five pages in I kept wondering why anyone was supposed to care who or why Pascha/Sascha Lerchenberg was murdered. At one hundred pages in, I was glad the annoying little oik had been bumped off. As a narrator/protagonist, Pascha is the most uncouth, disgusting, perverted, sexist pig of a man I've ever encountered. And we're supposed to care he's dead? Excuse me, but as a reader, we're supposed to be able to connect with the protagonist on some level, to have some sympathy for him. With Pascha I felt nothing but irritation that I had keep hearing his "voice." Martin, the coroner, is a much more sympathetic character and I kept wishing the book had been told from his P.O.V. I would much rather have seen the story unfold from his shy and hesitant perspective as he encountered all manner of thugs and ruffians and had only the patronizing promptings of a ghost, who was more interested in looking up nearby womens' skirts, to help him out of sticky situations. Martin's use of legal-ese and medical mumbo-jumbo to intimidate the men bullying him were the most funny and creative bits in the entire novel.

Then we come to the method of storytelling. I've already mentioned how annoying Pascha's voice is, but his many interjections interrupted the flow of the narrative rather than added to it. The overwhelming number of his snarky asides and inner monologues and puerile sniggerings were just downright distracting. There also seemed to be unnecessary pauses in the action. For instance, when Pascha's body is being autopsied and Pascha makes his ectoplasmic self known to Martin, instead of exclaiming over the fact that someone can hear him and badgering that living person to talk to him, Pascha instead shuts up and slips into the morgue drawer holding his physical remains, waiting until the next morning to begin conversing with Martin. Now, me personally, if I were a ghost and discovered that when I spoke, someone living heard me, I'd be all up in that person's face, immediately asking what's going on, hey can you help me, and other assorted questions to do with my current incorporeal state. It just didn't sit right with me.

I wanted to blame the translation. After all, sometimes things get lost when switching from one language to another. The original story is in German and the German people have words (like Schadenfreude, a gorgeous one) which just do not translate into English. However, the more I read, the more I could see that the translator actually did an excellent job and the problems I encountered with the story were in the actual source material. One hundred pages in, I just had to stop pretending; I no longer had the energy or desire to continue with the book. I flipped through the rest of it just to see how the mystery ended and gratefully put the book away, somewhere far out of my sight. I really hate giving up on novels, but I hate wasting my time and energy on losers even more. And believe me, I hate calling something a "loser"; after all, I'm a writer, I know how attached we writers become to our work and how difficult it is to hear criticism of said work. So my problems with this book may not be your problems. After all, Morgue Drawer Four was shortlisted for Germany's 2010 Friedrich Glauser Prize for best crime novel, so, hey, what the hell do I know?

Read November 3-10, 2011
Originally reviewed for the Amazon Vine program November 12, 2011

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