A. K. Alexander, Blood and Roses (Thomas and Mercer, 2013)
Full disclosure: This book was provided to me free of charge by Amazon Vine.
There are some books about which you just know. By the end of page two of Blood and Roses, I was absolutely certain that this would be the first book I’d attempted to read in 2013 upon which I would be invoking the fifty-page rule. And the closer I got to page fifty, the more the book fulfilled my expectations. This is terrible in ways I’m not even sure people have names for yet.
There is one thing about it that I found interesting, in that I’d never actually seen it in a published work of fiction before, but it makes complete sense. It’s obvious that Alexander had, in fact, done at least a modicum of research into her subject, the horse racing business. She tosses in facts here and there that ring perfectly true. (I’ve been a horseplayer for twenty years now, and spent a few of those in the late nineties as a semi-pro analyst.) But she doesn’t seem to have managed to internalize any of those facts; they’re not connected to what’s around them, which makes the book’s gaffes all the more glaring. When she refers to the jocks’ room as “the jockey locker room” on page one–in the third sentence of the novel (which is also the first sentence of the third paragraph, and that should tell you a lot of what you need to know about Alexander’s writing style), okay, I was willing to write that off. But I kept seeing things like that. And then I got to this howler:
“Okay, señorita. As you wish. I love the filly. Don’t doubt that.”
“Yeah. She’s a good mare.” Elena smiled. (p. 32)
Anyone who’d been around horses for a week wouldn’t have that conversation, much less an owner talking to a veteran jockey. (For the uninitiated, a female horse is a filly until her fifth birthday, at which case she becomes a mare. The sole exception is female horses under the age of five who have been bred, but for an under-five mare to be retired, bred–presumably unsuccessfully–and returned to racing is an exceptionally rare event, and a writer would probably go out of her way to mention that. And even in that case, the jock wouldn’t have made that mistake.)
That passage also illustrates another of the book’s glaring problems, that it is awash in what paranormal romance novelist Jennifer Dunne terms “As you know, Bob” moments–places where the characters’ conversation serves no purpose but to convey information to the reader that the two characters are already in possession of and that each knows the other is in possession of, leading to a conversation those characters would never have in real life. Would one cop say to another “Your gut is usually decent.” (p. 23) when they’ve been partners for years? Of course not. But it happens here.
The one thing about this book that was a small consolation to me is that Chapter Nine begins on page fifty, so I felt all right about abandoning it at the beginning, rather than the end, of the page. Sometimes, it is the small things that keep us from going insane. However, that’s balanced out by the fact that the back copy on the ARC indicates this is at least the second book in a series…so the author has, presumably, done this before. I’m terrified at the thought that, someday, I may inadvertently pick up the first book in this series, having totally forgotten about this one–something I am attempting to do very hard right now–and start reading it. Because if it’s half as bad as the forty-nine pages of Blood and Roses I just forced myself to finish before abandoning the book, I’m going to be traumatized all over again. If you find a copy of this book in your hands, put it back on the shelf, back away slowly, and then flee screaming from the bookstore. By far the worst book I have attempted to read so far in 2013. (zero)