Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The precarious role of coincidences


By Neil Randall

Publisher: Crooked Cat

Pub. Date: January 24, 2017

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

In the world of suspense and mystery, plausibility is an big issue. The task for most mystery writers is to make the implausible plausible. A good mystery novel is often loaded with coincidences and those coincidences must be such that the reader is willing to suspend belief at least for a little while as the author patches them up to create a believable whole and a believable conclusion.

The issues with Isolation is all about plausibility. The plot starts with an unlikely premise and is then loaded with one thing on top of another. To a certain extent it works. The author, Neil Randall, has a lightning style that keeps throwing weird things at you and leave you wanting for more...and a resolution. The set-up is certainly irresistible. Nigel Randolph is an unassuming man who works in a government office taking safety complaints. He receives a photograph of what appears to be a murder scene. At first he thinks it is a prank but changes his mind when the exact same scene shows up on the news. He reports it to the police and becomes more involved when it is discovered the two murdered women were,along with Nigel, part of a therapy group ten years earlier when he was having mental health problems. Pretty soon there are other deaths of people Nigel knew and they all seem to be related to that therapy group.

There are other strange clues. A drawing of an great horned owl keeps showing up coupled with a Native American myth. A new girl friend comes into his life while an old girl friend is writing things about Nigel that is the opposite of what he remembered. And of course, he is quickly becoming the police's prime suspect. It all mounts up quite well until a situation involving Nigel going to a house to investigate a complaint really stretches my ability to suspend disbelief. It never quite recovers from that point. But the storytelling skills of Randall is good enough to keep my interest until...

The ending. Oh, that ending. I certainly do not want to ruin it but it is a cliche. It explains the piling of coincidence but in the least original way possible. What the author meant to be a shock become merely a groan and deadens any enthusiastic for wanting the author to wrap up all the loose ends. It's too bad since I really did like the build-up regarding of the heightening of the implausibility. Yet that style of build-up always risks falling off the edge and this edge is off the Empire State Building, so to speak.

It isn't that an ending like this can't work. It simply doesn't. In order for it to work we need an inkling of a clue so when we get there we can say, "Why didn't I see that coming." We do not get it. What should feel like a surprise feels more like a cheat. It is too bad because the plot really grabbed me at least for a while. Neil Randall writes well and to some extent there was good structuring of his plot. Yet if an author piles on the implausible there must be a climax that pulls it off. That is what's missing and why I can not recommend Isolation

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