I normally steer clear of reviewing books at Casa Del Halfhead, primarily because... well, I'm not entirely sure. I think it has something to do with having been on the receiving end of enough poopy, bitter, twisted and downright nasty ones to make me wary of putting the boot into someone else. Fair's fair after all. So I usually just recommend things I've liked. There's a bigger discussion about what value reviews serve and the intention behind them, but that's for another day. Today, I'm inclined to put the boot in.

But because I'm basically a nice person (*cough*, *cough*) I'm going to spare the writer in question's blushes and not name them, or their book. "What's the point in that?" I hear you moan. "If you're going give someone's book a kicking, shouldn't we know whose it is?" No. And don't be naughty. I'm complaining about this particular book, because it's a perfect example of how to annoy the crap out of picky-bastard readers (like me).

1: Dialogue.
A book is like a milking stool: it has three legs and a buxom milkmaid perching upon it with her pert and lifelike buttocks. Leg number one (of the stool, not the milkmaid) are the characters. Leg number two is the narration. Leg number three is the dialogue. The seat is the plot. And the buxom milkmaid is the actual story. As with any three legged thing, if one leg is a bit dodgy, everything collapses and the buxom milkmaid ends up flat on her arse in a cowpat. And so many people write the most appauling dialogue, it's a wonder the countryside isn't littered with dairy operatives covered in shite.

Here's the example. I've changed the character names, but the basis set-up is this: Detective Nipples is a senior police figure who has previously been screwed over by Agent Bumweasel to the point where his career was nearly ruined. So there's no love lost. Detective Nipples hates Agent Bumweasel, and how does he express this burning desire to see the man's testicles ripped apart by rabid lobsters?

"If I had my way, I'd never tell you. You're an unpleasant person. But the law being what it is, I called you this morning, just before you called me."

Blistering, isn't it? 'You're an unpleasant person.' God, can you not just feel the venom? Never mind the expositiony 'But the law being what it is, I called you this morning, just before you called me' bit. Actually, I do mind that bit. It's a vast, steaming example of Who The Hell Talks Like That? If Agent Bumweasel screwed you over, would you call him, 'an unpleasant person'? I don't bloody think so.

After all this time, you would think people would finally get the message: READ YOUR DIALOGUE OUT LOUD. Everyone and their maiden aunt drags this piece of advice out time and time again, but people still don't sodding do it!

And I'm not talking about fledgling writers on their first book either. Detective Nipples and Agent Bumweasel feature in the third book of an award-winning author with bestseller credentials and glowing blurbs from BIG NAME writers. And he still comes out with 'you're an unpleasant person'. *shudder* Of course there are other chunks of dialogue that make my toes curl in there, but let's be nice and leave it there.

2: Building up to nothing

This also bugs the nipples off me (in my role as buxom milkmaid) -- when a writer sets something up, chapters in advance and then doesn't follow through with it. In this case it's something that so clearly screams 'THIS IS GOING TO FEATURE IN THE FINALE!!!' it could have 'plotbunny' tattooed on it's arse and a big, pimp-style hat. And it does indeed feature in the denouement, only a way that completely pisses away any dramatic tension. It's a bit like spending three chapters describing how the hero's built a nuclear warhead from an old Kenwood mixer, some bogies and a family-sized box of cornflakes, only when it comes to the big dramatic finale he decides to take the baddie out for a cup of coffee instead.

The book that shall remain nameless does this at least twice. And it's a shame, because if the writer had actually done something with these carefully crafted build-ups it would have been a much, much better book. There was an opportunity to make something great, but instead of going 'BANG!' the book went, 'fut...' instead.

3. Who the hell is everyone?
Well, you might have introduced Mr Mousetrousers fifteen chapters ago, but you know what: if you just drop his name in the narrative and expect me to know who the hell you're talking about, you're going to be disappointed. But not as disappointed as I'll be, when I haven't got a scoobie who you're talking about. And if I don't know who the bugger is, then whatever cunning bit of info you're imparting is going to be completely lost on me. I now have no idea what you're on about. And that never bodes well.

Give me some context! REMIND me who Mr Mousetrousers is, and why it's vitally important that he was in the hotel when the photo of Captain Stickyparts was taken. Because it's not that far from not knowing, to not caring.

I have to admit that I finished the book through determined bloody-mindedness, rather than any desire to actually find out what happened. Don't get me wrong: there were some very well written bits in the thing, just not enough to compensate for the wobbly three-legged stool. Straight in the cowpat.

Just thought I'd get that off my chest...