A Fascinating Read
This was a fun, entertaining read. Although the novel wasn’t stylistically polished, and although the first couple of chapters struggled to hold my attention, the rest of the novel was engaging and beautifully done. You had me fooled until the end.
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The rest of this review will contain spoilers for future readers, so please do not read this review if you haven’t read the novel.
I’ll start with basic analyses of the three main characters, then move into general characterization.
JOHN: His basic character traits seem to be his confidence and (later) sadism. The switch between the two was incredible, and I loved it. Although he seems a little one-dimensional, it suited the plot, and it worked. In fact, making him too complex might have ruined the story. Great work on that. For his character, I’m mostly going to focus on the believability of his past.
John didn’t have the tools to make as few mistakes as he did. Given the murders that happened near him in the past, I refuse to believe he and his brother haven’t been fingerprinted before. Since fingerprints differ even between twins, he should have been caught by now. I also refuse to believe that when he was what, eight years old, he had the presence of mind not to leave fingerprints on the knife or anything. Eight-year-olds don’t know about fingerprinting really. Also, it stretches my imagination to believe that John killed people since he was eight. Animals at that age? Yes, I can believe it, but he wouldn’t have been strong enough to kill a grown person. It takes physical strength to stab a body, and it would have taken physical strength to subdue his mother. Most serial killers were abused as children. Given that John was not abused, my imagination stretches thinner and it became more difficult for me to suspend my disbelief.
The chapters written in John’s POV felt like a cheat in the narrative, as he seemed to think and feel things that he would not have felt and thought had the events revealed later in the story been true. The first few chapters should still make sense on a re-read, and they do not. Be careful when entering John’s point of view, as you need to portray him as a kind brother without lying to the readers. Meanwhile, when you do enter one character’s point of view, try to stay in that character’s point of view for the entirety of the chapter. Inconsistency can lead to reader confusion.
JAMES: His basic character traits are his timidity, his guilt, and his loyalty to his brother. Other than that, he seems to lack depth. His personality shifts, especially in the beginning, from being humorous and open with John to being completely closed off with everyone else, were inconsistent and felt a bit false. Meanwhile, the observation skills he showcased in the beginning almost seem out of place. I understand the need for his intelligence, but there are other ways to portray that. I loved his character, though, and the deck of playing cards was a nice touch.
DANIELLE: Her basic character trait was her persistence, but she didn’t really have a choice there. She tried, she struggled, she failed, she cared, she sympathized. However, I never truly cared about her as a character. Again, this is fine for the genre, but I would like to see a little more cohesion and depth to her character. Also, I would have expected her reaction to the deaths to be far greater, especially since she’s so inexperienced.
The side characters tend to be forgettable. Their deaths didn’t really affect me as much as wondering if the twins would be able to get out of the situation, which works well for the story but makes me feel a bit sad that I couldn’t care about them. Mostly because all of their character traits were introduced in chapter three and only mentioned infrequently afterwards. You mention the character names a lot, but it took me a little longer than usual to connect the name with the description, since we couldn’t see their actions. They all had a defining word attached to them (the crazy couple, the businessman, etc), but they never seemed to have character traits that led their actions throughout the novel. Again, this is fine for the genre, but it did get a little confusing especially in early chapters.
A lot of the characters’ names that start with “J” seem to get mixed up. Once or twice, you called a character “John” instead of “Jack,” “Jack” instead of “James,” “James” instead of “John,” etc.
Right now, your dialogue seems unconnected to the characters. The dialogue styles seem the same for all the characters, regardless of their personalities. This is especially noticeable in James and John’s dialogues in the beginning of the novel, when James sounds precisely like John, confidence and all, despite their vastly different personalities. Try to make them sound different, and readers will more easily be able to distinguish the brothers.
John calling his brother “brother” seemed a bit forced at times, but that’s just me nitpicking.
Although I prefer well-developed characters, the story itself isn’t character-based. I do think you need to resolve the inconsistencies with James and John’s characters, make the side characters a bit more memorable, and keep the point of view more consistent as well. Other than that, the characterization was more than adequate for the genre.
PLOT & SETTING:
This section will mostly focus on what I notice during my second read through the piece. I’ll try to keep it chronological, so that you can follow the story progression.
Let’s start with the bad news. The first two to three chapters weren’t the best. Forgive me for being blunt, but the first chapter especially was horrible. Maybe you weren’t experienced. Maybe you didn’t develop your characters enough at that point. Either way, even on a re-read, I was confused. I think you were confused, too, since you used James instead of John and John instead of James, and I had to reread the chapter around three or four times before deciding to give up and move on and pray that it would all become clear later on.
On the other hand, I loved Jorge and Silvia, and the initial description was perfect for setting up the location. A little more description could be used throughout the rest of the story, but this is a thriller piece and too much could really bog the story down. Right now, you’re almost perfect for the genre.
In the dialogue between the twins, the “three motels ago” “five motels ago” dialogues were confusing, mostly because the brothers sounded so similar that the dialogue detracted from the story rather than added to it. The problem disappears later in the work, which makes me think you simply didn’t know the characters well enough at that point.
The side characters seemed remarkably calm throughout the novel, except during chapter six where they went hysterical for maybe twenty seconds before turning calm again.
I don’t really have much to say in between. The slow buildup of suspense was masterfully done. You have a very good sense for raising the stakes and keeping reader interest.
After James confesses, why doesn’t Danielle videotape the cell door, the way she used video earlier? It seems like a ridiculous oversight, especially as she was so cautious.
How did John transfer the blood to James after every murder?
How does James black out all the time? Actually, no. That’s the pills. How did Danielle black out, when James was in the cell? She didn’t take pills, and it didn’t seem like she got knocked on the head or anything. And later, when Danielle was left alive and Bifrons left. How did he knock her out so quickly?
How exactly did the hypnosis with the psychiatrist happen? What happened, exactly? James was in the room, and his brother was locked outside. James was hypnotized, and John gets into the room? By picking the lock, I assume? So why does Bifrons say the psychiatrist “figured it out the dynamics between James and me pretty fast” in chapter 21? The psychiatrist can’t have figured it out before the hypnosis, or James wouldn’t have been hypnotized at all. meanwhile, the only way he could have figured it out after hypnosis was when John entered the room, which wasn’t really figuring it out.
The second to last chapter, where the majority of deaths happen, felt a bit rushed and melodramatic.
I loved the misdirection until the end. Beautiful.
Is English your first language? If it is, I don’t mean to offend you, but there were several misused words that I don’t usually see in English-speakers’ works. Most of the errors weren’t distracting enough to detract from the plot, though, so I’ll just list the most prevalent ones.
There were punctuation errors throughout. Misused commas, misused exclamation points, etc. I would suggest looking up comma usage and reading through the rules yourself.
In general, avoid multiple punctuation, such as !!! and !!? The only time when double punctuation is acceptable is this: ?! and even that is highly informal and rarely used.
I also noticed several dialogue tag errors in capitalization and comma usage.
In chapter one, your dialogue is not separated by paragraphs. In general, when switching between speakers, paragraph breaks should also be used to signify the change.
There were a few places where you used present tense instead of past, but they were less distracting.
In terms of usage, I noticed you used “peeked” instead of “piqued” and “steak-out” instead of “stake-out.” Those were the only ones I noticed, but there may be more.
Especially in earlier chapters, you lack subtlety. For example, in chapter two:
“We haven’t had a cellphone in forever.” John tried to calm James down. “And there’s always the landline. We’ll be just fine. Let’s enjoy dinner for now.”
The “John tried to calm James down.” feels a bit redundant in the above piece of dialogue. This is just an example, but in general, try to avoid unintentional redundancy.
Throughout the story, most of the information is conveyed through monologuing. Try not to have characters monologue for the sole sake of conveying information.
Overall, however, the novel was very well-written. I’m not talking about grammar or word choice specifically, but you do have a good sense for what details to show and what details to gloss over. I don’t think you have a very specific style, per se, but that only comes with practice and reading.
Good work overall. Despite the harsh critique, I really did enjoy the piece. With a little polishing, it could become even better.