Read-it-if Review: Blur … and a Fi50 reminder!

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Afternoon all! Today I have a murder-mystery-paranormal-YA new release for you and a reminder for all the dauntless creators of teeny-tiny narrative.  So without further faffing about, let me remind those who would like to participate in this month’s Fiction in 50 challenge that the prompt for May is…..

what comes after button

To join in, simply create a piece of fiction in 50 words or less and link it up to the linky in my post on Monday.  We always welcome new players (with a no hazing policy too – bonus!) and veteran challengees alike.  If you’d like to know more about the challenge just click on the attractive image at the top of the post.  Also, we’re coming up to the end of the prompts for this six-month period, so if anyone has suggestions for prompts for the second half of the year, let me know and I’ll try to include them.

Now on to the review!  I received a digital copy of this title from the publishers via Netgalley – thanks!

Today’s tome is Blur by Steven James, a paranormal murder mystery for the YA market.  In Blur, we are introduced to Daniel Byers as he and father are attending the funeral of a girl from Daniel’s school.  Daniel didn’t know Emily Jackson very well – nor, it seemed, did anybody from Beldon High School – but he and his father think it only right that they attend Emily’s funeral, after she was found dead following an accidental drowning in the local lake.  While viewing Emily’s casket, Daniel has a terrifying vision in which Emily’s corpse comes to life and instructs him to find her glasses.  When Emily’s ghost appears to Daniel again later on, during an important football game, Daniel thinks he may just be going crazy, but tries to comply with Emily’s wishes.  As Daniel delves deeper into the circumstances surrounding Emily’s death, he, his friends Kyle and Nicole and maybe-love-interest Stacey, uncover some clues that may point to Emily’s drowning being murder.  But who would want to murder a girl that nobody really took any notice of?  And are the visions that Daniel is having all just in his head?

blur

Read it if:

* you think murder just isn’t murder unless it produces a good old-fashioned haunting in its wake

* you know something about, or care about, or enjoy reading about, American football

* you like a murder mystery in which it is nigh on impossible to guess the murderer before s/he is revealed in the course of the story

So….you know how a week or two ago I was waxing lyrical on how there should be more murder mysteries written for this age group? Well…I’m kind of rethinking that pronouncement after reading this one.  Normally, as regular readers of my musings will know, I love a good paranormal and I love a good murder mystery, so all signs pointed to me thoroughly enjoying this book, but my overall impression is one of a narrative that was trying too hard to be all things to all people. Allow me to explain.

There’s not a lot to complain about regarding the actual story itself – it’s readable, the story flows reasonably well and there are a few good red herrings dotted about to lure the reader astray.  If this was just a plain murder mystery, I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more.  Where I feel it fell down was in the paranormal elements.  Now, I can’t say too much about certain bits of the paranormal stuff because it would lead to spoilers, but essentially I felt that Daniel’s visions (and his Rainman-esque ability to solve mathematical problems in a split-second) didn’t really fill any meaningful purpose in the story.  In all honesty, the same story could have been told using a different plot device to engage Daniel and his friends in Emily’s murder investigation, without having to resort to paranormal stuff that seemed tacked on.

Similarly, there is a bully character in the story who hangs out with a pair of cronies and generally appears to hassle Daniel at key points in the narrative.  Again, I couldn’t figure out why they were necessary.  Did James just put them in because every school needs a bully? I’m not sure.  But their appearances could easily have been dropped from the book with very little change occuring in the overall narrative flow.

Finally, I had a real problem with the ending of this story.  From my point of view, a GOOD murder mystery allows the reader to think that they’ve solved the mystery just before the reveal, before having the story turned on its head in a clever and unpredictable fashion, thereby offering a warm feeling of satisfaction in the author’s skill at wiley trickery.  Unfortunately, in Blur, this warm feeling of satisfaction is denied the reader (or at least it was for me) because there is no possible way that the killer could have been guessed beforehand.  You know why?

**And this is a tiny little SPOILER, so don’t read the next bit if you don’t want to know about it…just skip ahead to the next paragraph**  I’m glad you asked.  The killer could not have been guessed because s/he was barely mentioned in the preceding couple of hundred pages.  In fact, I had to read the reveal a few times to get it, because I was going, “Who? Where does s/he come into it??”  So instead of a warm feeling of satisfaction at the author’s wiley tricksiness, I was left scratching my head and thinking, “Well that was unexpected. And fairly stupid.”  So after the reveal I spent a bit of time pondering why James would have selected a killer that essentially had no motive for a crime that took an enormous amount of effort to engineer.  And I came up empty.  Disappointing really.

**SPOILERY BIT OVER**

I realise, after looking at reviews over at Goodreads that I’m fairly well in the minority here, given that most other readers seem to have loved this book, but I’m afraid it just didn’t cut it for me and I won’t be seeking out the next books in the trilogy.  To be perfectly honest, what tipped me right over the edge was an adult character’s use of the word “addicting” close to the end of the book.  I think, silly character, the word you are looking for is “addictive”.  I can tell you that as I was already slightly irritated by the shonky reveal, having a character unnecessarily verbing an adjective (as dictionary cat would say) was like being unexpectedly poked in the eye with a sharp stick.

Once again, plenty of others have greatly enjoyed this book, so don’t let my whinging put you off.  If you like murder mysteries with a ghostly twist, this could appeal to you.  Blur is due for release on May 27th.

OH! A favour please, my American readers: What on earth is a “Homecoming” game and why is it so important?  I have never bothered to question this event before, but now my curiosity has arisen.  Where are the students/teams/school supposed to have been, to warrant a homecoming? And why do you select monarchs of homecoming, when you are so staunchly proud of your independence?  Thank you in advance for this cultural education.

Until next time,

Bruce

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7 thoughts on “Read-it-if Review: Blur … and a Fi50 reminder!

  1. I enjoyed your review of this book–it sounded good, except for the paranormal stuff that I’m not really much interested in. My take-away from your review is that I picked up a valuable point as I work on my own novel–mostly that if something doesn’t move the story along, it should be cut. I guess there’s a tricky balance between filler/details that round out the character studies and show development of relationships–and stuff that maybe only a few readers would groove on…. AND, thanks for the Fi50 reminder–I’ll put that on the Clipboard and get busy!

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    • I suppose it depends on the genre and how the details are integrated. Tolkien wrote reams of detail and people love his work. In this case though, it seemed to me like there were events and character …characteristics…that didn’t have any context.

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      • Okay, that makes sense to me. Here’s a question: I just watched a movie with the commentary on–the director talked about how, by definition, cinema must have action to move the story along (different from a play, or book). As I was writing the first draft of my novel, I was conscious about that–fearful that I couldn’t just have my characters sitting and talking (to reveal important background/catch-up details), that they had to be doing “something”, such as eating a meal, going out on a boat. Do you have an opinion about that? Thank you.

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      • Again, I suppose it depends on the type of story you’re writing. Alexander McCall Smith frequently has people sitting around talking while doing little else – for entire chapters in some cases – and his work is enormously popular and that style fits nicely with the atmosphere of his books. Again, I’d say if the “something” that you have your characters doing while talking is just tacked on in order for them to have something to do, I can’t imagine that it would be particularly beneficial to the story. But then again, I’m only a reviewer, so not an expert in these matters – I just know what I like and what drives me nuts!!

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  2. Another fine review. I will tell you about Homecoming. It is a very important event in the life of high school kids. I’m guessing all over the US, but I don’t know that for sure. I do know that it’s BIG in Texas. Because football is BIG in Texas. Well, everything seems to be BIG in Texas. So, in high school, fall is football season and there is a game every Friday night. One game during the season is designated as the Homecoming game – my understanding is that it’s the one that all alumni come “home” to watch. There is a big dance/party after the big game. All the girls receive huge mums that they wear on their shoulders. A queen is voted on and crowned at half-time of the game. And there is usually a parade before the game. It’s a BIG deal.

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