Saturday, 16 March 2013

James Becker - The Nosferatu Scroll

One of the most important things about a book is that the reader can identify with the characters involved. However, there are certain ways a writer can prevent a reader from doing so even if they design a really good character and this is exactly the case with James Becker’s Chris Bronson.

Of all the surnames there are to chose from, including making up new ones, I do not understand the decision to name the main after one of Britain’s most notorious criminals – complete with a matching first initial. He is also referred to throughout the book as Bronson and he is a policeman. I found it impossible to picture anything but a bald guy with a cheesy eighties moustache as Bronson was gallivanting around Venice.

There will be more on Chris Bronson’s skill set later, but for now let’s discuss the actual writing. The first few chapters hammer out a load of semi-relevant information in the form of dialogue from Bronson’s wife, Angela.  My main problem with this is that it stops being dialogue and reads like non-fiction. There is no characterisation to the paragraphs; they just run as uninterrupted dialogue for pages at a time. I would have forgiven this had Bronson said something at the end like, ‘Sorry darling, I stopped listening about 3 pages ago.’

There are small problems with the characterisation of everyone throughout the book. On page 125 when some random dudes have a woman prisoner, they haven’t said anything to her for the entire time she has been captured. Then, all of a sudden, it what appears to be a complete change of character, one of the dudes turns around and starts antagonising her.

The dialogue problems also continue throughout. A lot of the conversations are very wooden with little characterisation from either party. It makes for very uninteresting reading.

Around chapter 31 I started to become aware of a few problems with the pacing of the novel. Some parts which feature a lot of moving through different locations pass by in a few sentences and other parts, such as unnecessary conversations and information based dialogue get dragged out. I was quite shocked in this chapter especially because I almost didn’t notice that we had skipped a really long journey and passage of time.

Chapters are written from a few different perspectives.  One such perspective is the captured girl mentioned earlier. All these chapters serve to do is remind us that she was captured and is still captured and is being held captive. They don’t add anything to the story other than to remind us that she is in trouble and that something potentially bad is going to happen to her later. If nothing happened later, there would be no point to the story. There is far too much forewarning in these sections – we know something is going to happen and we do not need to be reminded of it every five minutes.

Moving on to problems with the story itself – one of the other characters is captured later on and kept alive to complete a translation. However the captors point out that they have translated some of the text themselves so would know if she was doing it wrong on purpose. At this point, it seems the only reason to keep her live is a device to drive the story.

As mentioned earlier Bronson has very specific skill set. One such skill is the art of aikido which is explained to us in the middle of an action sequence. The only reason for this is because Bronson needs to use this skill to survive. Similar occurrences happen throughout the novel, if Bronson needs to do something, the author gives him the necessary skills to do so with a quick history of why he is able to do it. At one point he needs to use a gun so it is brought to our attention that he used to be in army. After this I was half expecting him to come face to face with a lion – but he would be okay because of that year he spent as part of the circus as a lion tamer.

There are several other irritations, too many to mention all of them at this stage so I’ll mention two more that really got under my skin.  At the end of one chapter, Bronson is asked to if he can confirm whether or not a dead woman is his wife. His response is, ‘Yes I can.’ This is expected, he should know what his wife looks like. But surely if anyone is ever in this position where they are asked if they are able to confirm whether the dead person is their wife, the response would not be, ‘yes I can,’ and then stop talking.

The last one comes near the end where there are two girls are captured together - one of them is English and the other is Italian. The Italian knows a little English. Now in my experience, when someone says they know a little English, they know the basics. I wouldn’t expect someone with limited knowledge of a foreign language to know what the translation for taser was.

It seems that Becker, throughout the 466 paged of the novel, will give his characters the necessary requirement to make his story work with very little effort on his part which is attributable to very lazy and predictable writing. I managed to predict the ending to the letter and I am very rarely able to do that which is a not a good sign.

Despite the many, many points I’ve raised I still sort of enjoyed it, although the best bit was the author’s note in the back which taught me a lot about the history of vampires. Wait, I’ve just thought of another irritation! The book is called The Nosferatu Scroll and this would indicate that there is an item in the book of that name. However, Nosferatu is not even mentioned until the author’s note which makes the title of the book almost completely meaningless.

The Nosferatu Scroll by James Becker was published by Bantam Press in 2011. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

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