BOOK REVIEW: MISSING by JAMES McEWAN

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The Blurb:

“Laura’s mother is missing. A family’s secret.
The authorities place three-year-old Laura into foster care.
Fifteen years later, a family history project motivates her to search for her true identity. She must find her lost parents to learn the truth about the past.
She grew up feeling vulnerable, distressed and abandoned. She constantly dreamed about her mother and regardless of the reasons she left, Laura wants to forgive her.
Returning to the village and house where she was born, Laura meets her relatives who are supportive and welcome her with open arms. However, when she learns of a tragic event and uncovers some dark, family secrets people become alarmed. They consider murder to conceal the “skeletons in the cupboard”.
Now that her life is in danger, will she continue to search for the truth?
A gripping journey through an intrigue of secrets, lies, deception and jealousy.
With a heart-breaking final twist.”

The Review:

The basic premise and plot of Missing are promising. The set up is a classic English village ‘whodunnit’ in the style of Agatha Christie: an unsolved murder mystery in a small, insular community; the tangled history and dark secrets of a family, and a cast of suspicious characters with murky motives. All the ingredients and tropes are there and in place, which makes it all the more frustrating that the execution fails to live up to the premise.
I am normally quite lenient about grammar and punctuation errors, especially with self-published works, where the author may not have the same support of a traditionally published writer, but Missing is so littered with errors that I wouldn’t be giving an honest review if I didn’t mention them. Almost every page suffers from missing or misused punctuation – omitted question marks are a particular problem, missing full-stops and commas, or commas where they are not needed. There are several spelling errors (confine instead of confide, cope instead of coop) and problems with mixing past and present tense within the same paragraph. These errors make it difficult to read – just as you get drawn in, an error jumps out and takes you out the story. It feels like it needs a good edit and proof-read pass.
There are issues with time frames throughout – the story is set in 1995, while a past murder occurs in 1980. A number of inconsistencies crop up. The main character is 3 years old at the time of the initial murder, but also seems to have been swimming in a pool and clambering about a waterfall – not great parenting! The police in 1980 eliminate suspects through DNA testing – but DNA testing wasn’t performed until at least the mid-1980s. In 1995, one character has a mobile phone, despite very few people having mobile phones until the late 1990s (and what’s more, he never needs his mobile phone, so why mention it at all?)
The pace feels slow at times with many scenes repeated over and over again – Scott spends almost the entire book at hospital looking after his ill wife, then popping back to his B&B for a meal and then immediately going back to the hospital – over and over again. Almost everyone tells Laura to leave the town, over and over again. Meanwhile, Scott lets Laura stay as a guest, where she feels obliged to buy his food, cook meals for him and clean his house for him (why would any guest do this?). It emerges that they are actually related – uncle and niece – but they never actually acknowledge this to each other.
This is another problem – there are a lot of character inconsistencies. As an example take Old Charlie – he doesn’t like Laura, he doesn’t want her around. He spends 3/4 of the novel telling her to leave and avoiding her. Then Laura goes to visit him and within half a page he has invited her into his house for tea and starts chatting to her quite happily. It makes no sense. Or how about a paragraph about Scott and his wife. He tells us she has been in hospital for six months being treated for cancer, then in the next line says he is not prepared for her sudden death. How much warning does he need here?!
The main stumbling block though is the sheer amount of characters in the book, and their relation to each other. There are so many aunts, great-aunts, uncles, great-uncles, grandparents, sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins and second cousins that it is impossible to keep track of who is who and who did what, to who and when. A lot of characters also appear a couple of times then disappear without serving much purpose. By the middle of the book it has all become a bit of a muddle and I was feeling quite lost. Fortunately by the end the conclusion to the mystery just about made sense and hung together, so it was worth wading through the confusion to get to the end.

Summary: A frustrating read – there’s a decent, gripping story in there somewhere, but it’s buried in inconsistencies, a convoluted plot, too many characters and far too many punctuation, grammar and spelling errors. A little bit more care and attention and it could be a decent addition to the genre.

Similar To: Agatha Christie; Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels; Caroline Graham’s Chief Inspector Barnaby novel (Midsomer Murders on TV)


You can learn more about author James McEwan, and his writing, on his blog:
jplmcewan.wordpress.com

‘Missing’ is available from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback:
Amazon.com: Missing


I occasionally review books on my blog from independent and self-published authors. If you have a book you would like me to review, leave me a message and I will take a look.

For reviews of traditionally published books and to see what I’ve been reading, visit my Goodreads page.

12 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: MISSING by JAMES McEWAN

  1. I hate books with grammatical and spelling errors. Not that my written stuff is perfect, but when you’re trying to read a story and something incorrect glares out at you, the gist is gone. The blurb sounds great, but it’s been a long time since I bought a book (your A Justified State was one of four bought) and I don’t read as much as I used to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a shame as it had potential. I agree, I’m sure my books have the odd mistake that slipped through, but if you are going to give up so much time and effort to write a story you care about, why would you not go through a few times and make it as correct and error free as possible?

      Like

  2. Hi Iain,

    I know you are waiting for my response.

    Thank you for reading my book, Missing, and for your feedback. Your review is a welcomed piece of criticism and most appreciated.
    I particularly like how you concluded your review by placing my work in a similar genre to:
    “Agatha Christie; Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels; Caroline Graham’s Chief Inspector Barnaby novel (Midsomer Murders on TV)”.
    (Although I would not go that far, so thankyou).

    I do admire the work of the authors mention above, if only I was at that level. I am working to improve my writing craft, which you indicate has potential and like most aspiring authors needs attention and more effort. On the issue of punctuation, grammar and spelling – I improve every day – I intend to review my use of the comma which interrupts the flow of reading for you. Sorry. I will sort this out and updated a correct version asap. (I have so far only found three missing question marks, one missing full stop, commas aside at the moment). What I have noted is the overuse of certain words in clear proximity and I will work on those. I did have an editor and proof-reader go over this a few times before it was published and, it seems, we are not all perfect, (twice ‘confine’ instead of ‘confide’ and once ‘cope’ instead of ‘coop’ – spell check errors resulting in wrong words used. Therefore not spelling errors. So far, I have not found any spelling errors – but I am still searching).

    You point out a number of inconsistences:

    Not great parenting! Three-year-old Laura clambering about a waterfall and swimming in the pool. I am not sure how you managed to interpret this as Laura never swam in the pool.

    In chapter 21; we learn that Laura is with her mother–Irene, her grandmother–Sophia and Mary having a picnic at the pool. Mary was playing with Laura, and it was Mary who swam.

    In chapter 26; the present-day Laura explains how Mary used to take her onto the rock ledge behind the waterfall, play hiding.

    The police in 1980 eliminate suspects through DNA testing – but DNA testing was not performed until at least the mid-1980s. You are correct that the forensic techniques of DNA use in criminal cases were approved only in the mid-1980s. Prior to DNA, blood type analysis was used and this was only an indicator and controversial, and only used to work together with other presented evidence.

    In the book, the police were unable to eliminated suspects through DNA testing in the 1980s.

    In chapter 15, we learn that there was a lot of blood at the picnic site and the analysis showed traces of three people, but not any of Joe’s blood.

    Later in chapter 26, MJ is talking about the investigation and he recalls collecting DNA samples and chasing after the traveller community. This, I agree, is where you are misdirected since it was not explicitly explained that a murder investigation may take years to solve, and through the 1980s the police continued the investigation and had failed. Sorry, my fault.

    In chapter 29, the forensic team explains how DNA profiling has advanced since the time of the original investigation.

    Mobile Phones – They were widely available in many organisations in the 1990s and as Scott was a Vet, he used it for work. The role of the phone in the book was to create an air of conspiracy and gossip.

    Laura as guest: Scott makes an arrangement with Laura allowing her to stay in the B&B free of charge if she cooked meals for him, see Chapter six.

    Old Charlie: To say much more would give the ending away. He does not want Laura around, but at no time does he explicitly say he does not like her. Other characters have said so.

    Sheer amount of characters: Yes, as a reader you need your wits about you, this is, after all, a book about a Laura’s search through her family history. But at the same time there are only a few main characters that hold the plot together. I accept your point, each reader will decide for themselves.

    Iain, considering what you said I am pleased you managed to finish the book and found the conclusion made sense. Perhaps if you were not fixated with commas you may have been able to slow your reading and enjoy the story more, I take this as a lesson – the reader is always right.

    You will be pleased to know I have no intention (at this stage) of writing a sequel. I will though continue to learn my craft and come up with a more inspiration novel.

    Until then, best regards,

    James.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wasn’t waiting for a response but of course your more than welcome to! And thanks for taking the time to look at some of the points.
      Like I said, it has potential and the good thing about Kindle is that you can go back and update, so if you, or someone you trust, had the time to go through and edit some of the punctuation, then it could definitely be improved.
      I hope you will continue to write and find more inspiration for another novel, I would be interested to see what you come up with, and would look forward to having a read.

      Like

  3. Hi Iain.

    Since your review of Missing, I have made appropriate changes and updated both my e-book and the paperback.
    I humble ask you to remove your review of my book from Amazon and Goodreads as I believe it is now outdated and does not reflect the present revised novel.
    I took your criticism on the chin and learned from the experience. I have also started working on my grammar and punctuation towards improving my writing craft. My editor and fellow writers advised me to read various novels and concentrate on the grammar to justify the how and why it works. Two authors I am reading are Stephen King and Robert Harris. They are very different in their style and therefore; I frequently consult both dictionary and grammar checker to clarify in my mind their writing technique. I am reading as a writer, as advised.
    You are a professional editor with the BBC and I accepted your review as an honest appraisal from your experience.
    I also have noted from your website you support both self-published and independently published authors. So I am asking you kindly to consider removing the review. I feel it no longer reflects the present published novel, Missing.

    Thank you.

    Like

    1. James,

      I am pleased you have returned to your book and made some changes that you feel improve the novel.
      I have been able to edit the reviews I made and have added an amendment at the very beginning, stating that you have since made corrections and revisions that you feel address some of the points given in the review, and that the review may not reflect the current edition. However, I have stopped short of removing the review completely, as I feel it is an accurate representation of the novel I read at the time, and I do not believe it is a healthy practice to remove reviews at the behest of the author (as much as I’m sure all authors wish they could remove reviews they dislike, myself included!)
      I note there are several positive reviews of your book on both Amazon and Goodreads, and there is nothing to say they are more or less valid than my own review.
      I hope you feel this is an adequate compromise, and I hope those who read your book in the future will benefit from your continued efforts.

      Best wishes
      Iain

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have read and replied James.

        In summary, please delete your reviews of my books from Amazon and Goodreads. I will delete my reviews of your book. Please do not purchase, read or review my State Of War novel. I have no desire to hear your views on it. I’m sorry it has come to this conclusion,

        Best,
        Iain

        Like

  4. Hi Iain,

    Thank you for the quick response.
    I think the amendment you added has only compounded the issue, as it directly implies that the author is struggling with his writing and grammar – highlighted on an open forum. Something I would never do. Please reconsider and remove the review. I have no intention of getting into further discussion on this issue. Please read what I have to say below and you may understand why I now feel disappointed. Let’s not fall out over this.
    I agree that the practice of an author asking for the removal of critical reviews is not a healthy practice and is wrong since a range of opinions give a balanced and honest picture of the work from a broad spectrum of readers/audience.
    I have already mentioned that I accepted your original review and felt delighted that someone with a better grasp of grammar had taken the trouble to point out certain failings. For that I thank you and have vowed to improve my writing craft.
    Many reviews merely suggest there are typos or spelling errors, sometimes they mention clunky poor sentence construction or could do with a good edit. Most readers develop a like for authors on their style and storytelling and glance over the discrepancies. However, I don’t think an Amazon review is the place for grammar lessons, and you will agree readers are more interested in getting a feel for the story. The best reviews give an overall opinion on the characters and plot – they are subjective.
    Where I feel disappointed, and perhaps you are getting the opinion that I am now disgruntled, is how I believed, Iain, that you show you are an expert in grammar as you seemed to labour the point as the main issue in your review.
    I spent a lot of time and effort – working with others – and have improved my novel. (Although some people point out, it is not as awful as you make out).
    Regardless, I decided I would be courteous to you and read the last book of your trilogy. Sometime ago, I read the first two in the series. I was busy and admit I rushed through them, so went back to reread A Justified State and refresh myself on the story, before I purchase State of War. I enjoy an excellent series.
    What I discovered horrified me!
    This is the principal reason I have asked you to remove your review of my book on Amazon and Goodreads – keep it on your blog, your choice – honestly; I do not care and as already said, I accepted your original opinion.
    I discovered that your grammar is no better than mine, that hurt because I believed you were someone I could trust and point me in the right direction. You may understand why I feel this way now and have asked you to remove the review.
    What follows is an assessment of the section on the Amazon “look inside” on A Justified State, and only the first fourteen pages.
    The comma issues aside, there are a lot of schoolboy errors and later in the book there are dialogues with format issues.
    So let’s be courteous to each other.
    Best regards,
    James.

    Like

    1. James,

      I will delete the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads as you wish.

      In return I would ask you delete your reviews from my own books on both sites. Once I have seen this has been done, I will delete my reviews.

      I have found your actions and tone not only unprofessional, but also vindictive and threatening. Far from accepting my views with good grace, you are now bullying and harassing me.

      Once we have removed each others reviews, I would ask that you refrain from reading or commenting on my blog in the future. I can assure you I will no longer be reading your posts.

      I consider this the end of the matter and deeply regret the course of action you have taken. It does not reflect well on you.

      Good luck with whatever endeavours you have in the future,

      Iain.

      Like

  5. A Justified State by Iain Kelly

    The following are observation on the grammar and inconsistencies that appear at the beginning of the novel, and only that part which can be read with the Amazon “look inside” facility.

    Chapter 1.

    (Always use a comma after an introductory phrase. Hence – In the clear night sky, a full . . . )

    In the clear night sky a full moon illuminated rows of uniform white houses.

    Once upon a time huge New Year celebrations were held in the street and park here.
    In the peace of the night she started to hum the aria.

    **
    Note a confused word – whose, not who’s. This is a typical schoolboy error.
    There was no-one in the street tonight, and Gabriella was alone in the building, save for her guest, who’s muffled pleading she ignored

    **
    The operatic history in her family belonged to a Great Great Grandmother . . .
    A great-great-grandmother – this should be hyphenated and lower case in the above sentence.

    The following sentence needs an explanation since the novel is set in the future.
    The familiar sweet smell of cordite filled the room.

    (When articles debunk common firearm tropes in fiction, they usually mention how the “smell of cordite” isn’t in the air after a gunfight. Cordite’s heyday as the substance that makes a gun go bang started in the late 1800s and ended with the close of World War II. That means scenes set after 1945 wouldn’t include cordite.)

    Possible comma splice in the following lines.
    The exact translation escaped her, the dead language, no longer in common use, was beyond her.
    The first firework shot up into the night sky, the New Year had begun.

    **
    Missing comma after a prepositional phrase

    For most the chance to be on the streets with friends and family and fellow citizens was too exceptional an occasion to waste on demonstration

    **
    Unfamiliar black hair, artificially pale skin, deep rouge lips and sea green eyes stared back at her.

    Noun: sea green (a colour). Adjective; sea-green (with a hyphen)

    ‘Identity check,’ she asked Missing question mark

    Hyphen required; rear-view mirror.

    Watching the rear view mirror, Gabriella saw the crowd part . . .

    **-

    Do not hyphenate after an adverb ending in, ly.
    The uniformly-dressed populous viewed her bare athletic legs, tight fitting dress, short jacket and the rare high heels.

    Adjective noun confusion. Should this not be rare high-heels – or – rare, high heels. (Note high-heels with a hyphen is used later)

    Missing comma before a coordinating conjunction.
    No one followed her and she could see no one ahead.

    Unnecessary comma before a dependent clause.
    The officers would look the other way, or take a sample for their own mess.

    Adjective /noun = everyday is an adjective.
    This was not the squalid gentry in a dive, this was not the sweat and dirt and rich smell of working people drowning sorrows or searching for relief from the everyday.

    Missing comma separating participle phrase in the following.
    (Note there are many more examples and I no longer will list them.)

    Caught up in the atmosphere she missed the Consul entering the room.

    Kicking herself for such a basic error she stood up and moved across the room to find a seat near him, managing to catch his eye as she took a chair close to his table.

    Possible missing comma after politics.
    ‘You don’t want to spend tonight talking politics do you?’

    Hyphen; blood-red
    Gabriella sat on the windowsill and watched until the last explosion cast a blood red hue over the old city.

    **
    The following appear illogical or inconsistent.

    There was no need to check if the Consul was dead. His head had rolled back, his slack mouth open, blank eyes staring up at the ceiling.

    She pulled his head forward, his chin flopping down onto his chest. The tape over his mouth was redundant now, but she left it in place.
    Could she see his mouth open or not?

    Where were the shoes?
    The high-heels had been discarded the moment she had carried his slumped body from the car into the building half-an-hour earlier.
    Passing the dress and shoes she concentrated a further puddle around them.

    Confident that no one would be in the stairwell of the abandoned flats, she dressed herself, throwing on an old t-shirt, combat trousers, jacket and trainers. It felt good to be back in practical clothing. So far it had all gone to plan. She removed the latex gloves and threw them into the flammable liquid pooled at the door

    She dressed herself while wearing the latex gloves that she had used to gouge out the bullets. Would these have body fluids on them from the victim? Surely, she would have removed the gloves before getting dressed.
    She got back into the car before she hit the detonator. There was a small explosion, barely audible, the bin remained intact. A small flame licked the lip. She watched the bin for ten minutes as its contents burned. Even if someone made the unlikely discovery and could recognise the destroyed gun for what it was, there would be nothing forensic to link it to a murder carried out twenty kilometres away. Nothing could link it to her.
    I do not think she hit the detonator – a substance whose explosion initiates another. Perhaps she had a remote-control device.

    Nothing could link it to her. No! She dressed wearing the latex gloves that would have traces from the victim. These traces may have transferred to her clothes and subsequently onto the car seat. I expect DNA analysis would be advanced in this futuristic novel.

    The gun. An antique gun that uses cordite as a propellant may or may not be easier to trace than a commonly available model.

    But it is only fiction, after all.

    Chapter 2.

    Comma after subordinate clause.

    If he concentrated on the individuals he could see all the unique variety of humanity, the different faces, features and expressions.

    Split infinitive – a controversial issue.

    A mother out with her baby in an old buggy that required her to physically push it.

    Do not hyphenate an adverb ending ,ly.

    Among the smartly-dressed, clean-shaven, well-toned and groomed citizens,

    Possible missing comma after strong.
    Further down, still standing silent and strong was the huge metal crane,

    Lower case great-grandfather
    Danny’s Great Grandfather had worked there.

    Possible comma after introductory time phrase.
    Within a decade all the manual labour jobs had been replaced by automation and robots.

    Lower case; great-grandfather and hyphenated in the following.

    Danny’s father never spoke to him about his Great Grandfather, who had died before Danny was born.
    When he had applied to join the State Police, Danny had been questioned about his Great Grandfather’s desertion from the arms factory.
    He had never met his Great Grandfather and knew little about him.

    All these examples are from the initial part of the novel, available on Amazon ‘look inside,’ and give an indication of what will follow in the remainder of the work. A little more care and attention should have cleared up the grammar.

    Like

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