It's rare that I neglect to finish a book. I usually do plenty of homework first, choosing books that are highly recommended and/or have subject matteIt's rare that I neglect to finish a book. I usually do plenty of homework first, choosing books that are highly recommended and/or have subject matter of interest to me.
For this reason, my star-ratings are usually at least a three. I enjoy most of what I read because I'm selective about what I do read.
Perhaps I chose too quickly with this one. I assumed that the Vatican Archives setting would give way to a dense, literary mystery of the Donna Tartt or Ruiz Zafon variety.
Instead, I was treated to a simplistic writing style (think Douglas Preston) that seemed more like a movie script than a novel.
I'm not averse to blood and guts (I do like crime fiction), but the descriptions in the early pages of this book --which include brains blown out, a hanging and a flaying in the first few pages-- seem more for the sake of shock value and cinematic potential than real storytelling.
Character details are dropped in as if the author was filling out a Mad Libs template. (Note: character descriptions and details in and of themselves don't necessarily make for well-developed characters!)
I hate that I'm reviewing something I didn't see to its end, but I couldn't complete this with so many books waiting.
This series is probably to some peoples' tastes, but not mine.
For a better read that involves the Vatican library, see Thomas Gifford's "The Assassini" --action-packed and conspiracy-laden without the dumbing-down....more
Cursed objects are a well-worn device in the horror genre. From the dusty artifact in “The Monkey’s Paw” to the spooky sponge in It Came From BeneathCursed objects are a well-worn device in the horror genre. From the dusty artifact in “The Monkey’s Paw” to the spooky sponge in It Came From Beneath the Sink, a multitude of diverse authors have put their own spin on the trusty trope. There’s nothing inherently wrong with trotting out a cliched theme, but without adding something new, it’s just that—a cliche. In Relic of Death, David Bernstein revisits the idea of an enchanted object, but fails to add anything new to the idea, while bungling what little is there. The result is a mangled mess of a book that misses the mark in multiple ways.
Relic of Death begins with a couple of organized crime thugs fresh from a cold-blooded kill, headed back home before they can be connected to the crime. Things go awry when their car breaks down, which is when things go awry for the novella as well. The hit men don’t seem to know what they’re doing from one minute to the next, despite seeming like pros when they make their kill. They’re not meant to be dolts: the plot is just out of the author’s control, and the rest of the sequence makes little sense. It’s a mishmash of a chapter as the characters and the author battle it out. Nobody wins.
Bruno won’t let his partner use his cell phone to call for help, insisting that they walk. Once they encounter a house which they suspect is a drug den, they break the door down, despite remarking earlier that they don’t want to call attention to themselves, then put on gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints around the house only after they’ve used an axe. Their main focus then is on finding a phone (now it’s okay to make a call?), so they can “sit and relax” until help arrives. (Because a drug den you’ve broken into is a safe place to kick back?) They turn off the lights so they’ll have “the element of surprise,” hoping, I suppose, that the drug lord won’t notice they’ve chopped down the door. The thugs comb the house for valuables—the professional hit men now ostensibly petty thieves—and find a briefcase full of diamonds, the death relic of the title.
Like most cursed objects, the briefcase spells trouble for anyone who encounters it. Bernstein puts the relic in new hands for each chapter of the novella, introducing us to a parade of cardboard characters, each more cartoonish than the last. The smacked-out junkie, the unemployed single woman, and the lecherous landlord are devoid of any realistic features that aren’t hackneyed (though several of them have poor bladder control). Even the minor players seem straight from the funny pages of 1930. “You no make your home back here,” says a Chinese shopkeeper to the addict, before he attacks him “with the speed of a striking cobra.”
The writing style is as clunky as the plot, with awkward phrasing (“Interest captivated—for why he did not fully understand—he watched the woman…”) and jumbled sentence construction. “Sal’s shoulders slumped,” Bernstein writes, “His breath feeling as if it had been knocked out of him.” (Breath has feelings?) The axe from chapter one, perhaps out of a superstitious fear of word repetition, is referred to as the “wood-splitting tool.” The fear of word repetition doesn’t apply to a set of keys, though, which he feels the need to say are illegally made about 92 times in a row. It’s laughable.
“He also had copies of all the apartment keys, having made the copies illegally.”
“He grabbed his ring of copied keys…”
[Okay, not so bad, but then immediately after …]
“ ...he found Sandra’s apartment and stuck the illegally made copy into the dead bolt lock and opened it.”
“He put his ring of illegally copied apartment keys in the desk drawer.”
At this point, seriously … can he just say “keys?” (Perhaps “door-unlocking tool” would be more to his style.)
Even more awkward are instances where the author uses profanity. It may be that Bernstein is a very young writer, but the words come off like wrong notes. If you’ve ever heard an adolescent trying a “bad” word for the first time, it’s a similar effect. The crude or sexual passages read as if they’ve been penciled in because the author thinks they have to be there, but he’s reluctant. (A supposedly explicit text message reads: “I long for you to fill me.”)
Every DarkFuse title can’t be something like Bassoff’s Corrosion, but I’m a bit surprised to see them publish something of this caliber. I hope that their recent successes with some of their titles don’t make them get too anxious and become lax about what they choose to put their name on, but it appears that they may be publishing too much, too fast. With more careful curation, they could become a big name in horror.
With some serious—and I mean serious— editing, Relic of Death might be worthy of inclusion in a self-published anthology. As a stand-alone title: it’s just not up to snuff. DarkFuse can do better. ...more
The best thing I can say about Apartment 7C is that it’s short even for a novella (it’s really more of a short story), so it won’t cost more than abouThe best thing I can say about Apartment 7C is that it’s short even for a novella (it’s really more of a short story), so it won’t cost more than about fifteen minutes of your time. I received a review copy, so it didn’t cost me anything money-wise, but I see that the Kindle price is about $2.50—far too much for something this brief. I should also point out that a chunk of the stated 62-page length is taken up by a preview of one of the author’s upcoming works.
As a point of reference, a Goosebumps novel is almost three times as long. Fans of the young adult series whose reading level hasn’t progressed much further might enjoy something like this: it’s simplistic and completely unbelievable. The biggest difference between the two would be that R. L. Stine has some writing chops, plus the fact that David Bernstein has tacked on an awkward, slapdash torture scene that suggests his short story is supposed to be for grown-ups.
The central character is an elderly woman of 82 who regularly hears her neighbor being beaten and verbally abused by her husband, a caricature of a bad cop. Bernstein tells us that the old lady is, according to her doctor, in extremely good shape. She’s not a fitness buff, an ex-boxer, or anything else that might lead to her doctor’s proclamation that her heart “was like that of a thirty year-old runner’s.” Redundant possessive aside, Beth has been given a young person’s stamina for one reason only: the author needs her to do some pretty physical stuff later.
Beth’s sadness at the death of her daughter (who was beaten to death by an abusive husband) and the ultimate fate of her neighbor don’t spur her into action. Instead, she makes the great leap to planning an insane revenge after a series of dull, ghostly visitations, during which she learns that the cop has killed junkies and prostitutes. Now she's pissed.
The elderly-woman-with-the-heart-of-a-runner then climbs onto balconies and busts out windows in order to exact justice on the cardboard cop. What follows is a torture scene that, while it seems to have been the whole point of the story, is rushed rather than relished. Bernstein appears to have a list of items he’s checking off, and he quickly cycles through them.
While going through the checklist, Bernstein has trouble visualizing what’s happening. Even though his mouth is covered with duct tape, the cop is said to scream about a dozen times before the author later notes that the screams are weak because of the tape—as if he’s only just remembered that it’s there. (And could one even scream at all?) Later, he forgets about it completely, as the victim's pulverized lips are said to resemble “bleeding garden slugs.”
Save your money. There are far better shorts about revenge. For something a little more realistic, I recommend Goosebumps #34: Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes....more