Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Devil's Beat, by Robert Edric

When browsing through the local Chapters, my latest read caught my eye then my attention; The Devil’s Beat, by Robert Edric, has a creepy-looking cover (yes, I judge books by the cover – we all do) and a interesting title; the write-up on the back was equally engaging, so I threw it into the pile of books I was getting, and headed for the check out.  All in all, it turned into something of a disappointment.

The Devil’s Beat tells the story of a small English town in 1910.  The main character, Merritt is sent to the town by his London bosses to head up an inquiry into claims that five girls (ranging in age from nine to fourteen) witnessed the Devil in the local forest.  All of this sounds like the makings for a ‘modern-day’ witch hunt and a really interesting plot.  And yet, for all the potential, this book fell flat.

Edric’s tale begins with almost no back story.  The only way I knew that it was 1910 and the story was occurring in England was because I read the back of the book; and, in fact, the year is only hinted at one, about 200 pages in.  There is no up-front explanation for who Merritt is, what his actual job is, or what his experience is; again, you only get that information in drips and drabs throughout the book.  Finally, the whole ‘we saw the Devil’ aspect of the story is never fully explained or acknowledged until almost 100 pages in – for the first third of the book, the reader is guessing at why Merritt is there and what is happening in the small town; if you hadn’t read the back of the book, I think you’d be lost.

Plot development aside, I have serious problems with the characters as well.  As mentioned, Merritt appears in the book with almost no back story; some of the supporting characters have a bit more context, but not much.  The other major problem I had with most of the major the characters was that they came across as bumbling fools; of the four-man panel that head up the inquiry into the girls’ claims, they all come across as incompetent and out of their league – Merritt included.  Finally, and possibly the biggest sin to someone like me for whom characters are of central importance to enjoying a book, there was no character development in the end.  Merritt, perhaps because we don’t know much about him at all, comes across as flat, the supporting cast don’t have a satisfactory conclusion, and the antagonist doesn’t see the error of their ways.  What I will give Edric is that his antagonist was a really interesting character, however, that character doesn’t appear much, and that aspect of the story is left hanging.  All in all, not very satisfying.

So, final verdict?  Skip this book.  The most interesting thing about it was the write up on the back, and then it falls flat.  Unfortunately, the write up in the back of my copy for another of Edric’s books looks really interesting, but now I’m gun-shy to read anymore of his work for fear of wasting my time.  I guess the moral of this review is that when the synopsis of your book is better than the book itself, you should probably hire a less talented synopsis writer.

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