Under a Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes
I’m slightly going to break with my convention by starting with a headline. Under a Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes (HarperCollins, 2014) has too many words in it. Yes, I’ve finally come up with the ultimately damning feature for any book. Although this runs in at a modest 359 pages, it’s definitely too wordy. “Ah ha!” you’re saying, “There’s some inconsistency there!” But the number of words employed in telling the story has nothing to do with the length of the book. Take this opening paragraph as a classic example of the phenomenon. It would have been possible to construct a few sentences that delivered the critique in a short and simple way everyone could understand without a second thought. But, no, I had to go rambling off into the long grass, not caring whether anyone was really following or not. So, if you want the nutshell version, this is a book that thinks it makes itself a superfine police procedural by incorporating the jargon and a number of details from the real world of policing. So we have witness statements incorporated into the text, and charts displayed in the appendix. This is what we might expect when a crime novel is being written by a person who has worked as a police intelligence analyst. She has the knowledge and expertise and has not been afraid to use it.
So now comes the crystalisation of the point. Looked at objectively, this is a very good plot. With two deaths on the same night in a small village, one a probable murder, the other a possible suicide, DCI Lou Smith, our new series heroine, is in charge of her first major incident inquiry. We have the usual skewed social dynamics because she had an affair with one of the team, breaking it off when she discovered he was married. This has left the atmosphere tense between them. Despite this, the investigation gets off to a rapid start and we’re soon accumulating details of who was where and what they might have been doing. However, I find the change of format and style of conventional prose to incorporate formal witness statements, intelligence reports and other documents distracting. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer my police characters to interview witnesses and the authors to write down the answers as dialogue. To my mind, this is putting realism on a pedestal and allowing it to dominate the more natural narrative dynamics.
We then come to the characterisation which is somewhat perfunctory. We have a multiple point of view format and so there’s not that much time to get any real sense of who everyone is. There’s a general impression they are servants to the plot and moved around to get the desired results. There’s also one plot element surrounding a fairly important character that’s completely unresolved. I suppose this could be carried over into the next book in the series, but it feels unsatisfactory as it stands. And then comes what is slightly becoming the mandatory soft porn element in many of these detective/police procedurals. In this, I’m also including television serials like The Fall which, more often than not, seem to be celebrating misogyny and the objectification of women in a distinctly unpleasant fashion.
This book contains fairly explicit scenes depicting one particular form of BDSM. Although I can, to some extent, understand an author and the publisher believing that sex sells books, this level of description strikes me as unnecessarily explicit. Not that I think people do not engage in activities like this. It’s just we know so little of the individual who becomes a sub that it’s impossible to say whether this ready acceptance of this particular practice is plausible. It’s ironic that an author who aspires to introduce realism into the police procedural side of the book, should avoid realism when it comes to the BDSM. If authors are going to include content involving dominance and subservience, it’s useful to lay the groundwork to show some level of predisposition. D&S depends on safety protocols based on explicit consent. Without discussion between the parties to agree what can and cannot be done, and informed consent, where does the trust and the claimed enhancement of sexual pleasure come from? No matter what we might think of Fifty Shades of Grey, it does give some background to the characters so we can understand why they come to engage in their particular behaviour. Without this, the content just looks like exploitative smut intended to help the marketing department sell the book.
Put all this together and you have a genuinely poor book with everything possible done to kill interest in what could have been quite a successful story. Under a Silent Moon is not recommended.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.