Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Schizophrenic Writing Of The Dead

In case you all haven't noticed, I love atmosphere.  I love to read just the right book, at the right time, in the right place, for the right mood and no month is more atmospheric then October.  To this end I picked up the book Death Watch by Ari Berk because both the cover and the description sounded perfect for a dreary October afternoon.  Unfortunately a lack of focus made this book less then it should have been, but first as always SPOILERS AHEAD!
I will do my best with this synopsis, but I have to warn you that this book was all over the place.  As best as I can tell there is a town called Lichport that has some sort of deal where the dead wander all over the place in various forms.  We get zombie like creatures, ghosts, ghouls and people who just refuse to be dead.  Enter the Umbers, an old family from Lichport who take on the role of Undertaker, who's job it is...well...I'm still not 100% sure what their job is.  I think an Undertaker is their mostly to help the dead along, fix troublesome dead people, and chit chat with the dead who hang around and are helpful.  The story part comes in when we meet Sila Umber, a teenage boy who just recently graduated from high school.  Silas is an odd duck, there is no real reason given, other
then he is weird.  Silas's mother has done her best to force his father to appear to lead a normal life.  The family lives in Saltbridge, a town close to Lichport.  Silas's mother insists that no word about his fathers real work be told to him, and Lichport is rarely mentioned in their home.  One day Silas's father does not come home.  Silas's mother does her best to keep things normal, but her excessive drinking and inability to understand her son makes her mean.  They move back to Lichport to live with Silas's rich Uncle (who is brother to his father) and right away he senses something is wrong.  He eventually discovers the house that his father worked out of while he was in Lichport and is given the keys and free reign to it by Mrs. Bowe a woman who helps the Undertaker with his ambiguous work. Silas finds a watch in his father's belongings that when stopped allows him to see the dead in their spirit forms.  The watch is called a Death Watch and is one of a zillion partially explained artifact that an Undertaker can use in his work.  About 37 different storylines appear and disappear through out the book.  In the end I guess part of what happened was that Silas's Uncle had a son who died and he has spent the last couple of years killing people to try and appease his ghost, including his wife, and Silas's dad.  He wanted to figure out a way to keep Silas with him, thinking that giving his ghost kid a "brother" would some how make him happy.  Uncle is chased out by assorted ghosts, ghouls, living, dead, zombies and birds that had something to do with the story and he eventually was trapped aboard a ghost ship of evil people...which also had its own partial storyline.  Silas takes up his dad's work and there are two more books to confuse us with.
This book took me forever to get through. It was long, meandering, and never really went anywhere. The overwhelming feel of the book was that the author had all of these ideas and stories and really wanted to get every single one of them into the book.  He also seemed to want to get every type of death ritual ever performed in the whole entire world a bit of spotlight.  All of this combined with the feel that the author was trying to keep us in suspense through out the whole book made it fell very muddy and boggy.  All of this could have actually worked if his editors had made him flow the story a little more.  I think the main story needed fleshing out and to flow beginning to end, with the rites and stories put in as vignettes or prefaces to the different chapters.  Instead it was all mixed together until you could not tell if what you were reading was part of the story, or a separate story, or if they had anything to do with each other at all.  These little mini-stories were not even kept together, even these were broken into pieces and scattered through out the other stories, so I spent a lot of time trying to piece everything together, with no real pay-off.  The town of Lichport itself caused me a lot of problems.  I think the author was trying to make the town its own character, which I have seen
done very well before so it is possible.  Unfortunately the town did not make a whole lot of sense.  It also suffered from way too much going on.  In some places old houses were inhabited by zombies that were not zombies, other places had crumbled into ghoulish unsafe place, there are random ghosts, some friendly some not, there are marshes that are haunted by mother/bird combo's, a pond that has a very frisky ghost that may or may not have anything to do with the story, there are random undefined beings that are helpful sometimes...or not.  There are also a very few living people who all except Uncle are keen to help Silas in his undefined work.  There are no rules at all for this town, there is random tidbits of history, but nothing to actually tell us what the heck is going on.  You also get the feeling that the undead WAY outnumber the living, and that the living are all leaving at some point anyways...which makes me ask what you need an Undertaker for if you are all on your way out?    The most frustrating thing about this book is that it could have been really cool and perfect for Halloween/Fall.   If the author had done better organizing the various stories, maybe added an appendixes for the parts that were not easily explainable in prose, and limited his stories to a few well told ones, instead of a zillion fragments I think it could have been a great book.  Alas as it stands this book is a great idea, but way to scattered and nebulous to be read with any real enjoyment.  I will have to give this book 5 out of 10 honey preserved bodies.  I do however seem to be in the minority as I know there have been several glowing reviews, which is awesome.  This is the best thing about books, I can think one thing, you can think another and we all get to decide for ourselves, YAY BOOKS!
What makes or breaks a book for you?  Is there such thing as too many stories?  Am I just not smart enough for this book?

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