Julian Cage is a deeply cynical man who trolls the crime news of metro Atlanta. From these he creates fast-paced, character-driven mystery-thriller fiction. These novels and short stories center around Detective Diana Siddal and Inspector Mustapha Alawi, senior Homicide investigators for the Atlanta Police Department. You can reach Julian at email@example.com.
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Smashwords book reviews by Julian Cage
- Opera Flowers
on Oct. 03, 2012
It's just not ready for prime time. There's a germ of a decent story here: detective is hired to find evidence of affair, but finds something much more sinister. A classic plotline, really--and nothing wrong with that. it's just that the execution is seriously problematic.
First problem: beyond her function as detective, we are given zero insight into Lucy's character. She's just a placeholder. What does *she* think about opera, for example? Detective stories are about detectives, as people, and this one doesn't make Lucy a real person.
Second problem: show, don't tell. Lucy draws conclusions from her environment; but most of these are conclusions *we* should draw from what Lucy sees. Either give us Lucy's conclusions or let us draw our own--but don't do both.
Third problem: editing and punctuation. It's just all over the place. Homophone word choices, lack of commas when needed, malapropisms such as "think the worse" of someone rather than "think the worst," etc. Try reading the story aloud to get the cadence of speech right.
Fourth problem: much, much too long in all the wrong places. The first chapter is at least twice as long--really, more than that--as it needs to be. We need to know a few pieces of information: Stella is a tough 40yo wife trying to save her marriage, her husband runs a chemical company, she thinks he's cheating because he bought flowers, Lucy takes the job. All of this could be done in two of 48 pages, but it takes six--and it still doesn't tell us anything about Lucy. Throughout the story, there's way too much text used up with social business.
To Mr. Moon's credit, once the action part of the story gets going, it's much better. It's just that the setup and the initial investigation need to be cut way down and thoroughly re-edited. And we really need a sense of who Lucy is, if we're to root for her.
- Florida Heat
on Oct. 07, 2012
Structurally, as a story, this is fine. We have a set-up, we have a crime, we're ready to go. But there's two major problems to it. The first is the very poor copy-editing. There are missing and misplaced commas all over the place. This renders the prose, which is otherwise decent if uncompelling, incredibly distracting and takes away from the actual story. If Kirkland could sit down with a good copy editor and go through this very carefully, it would let readers focus on the story rather than its language--and this would be a real point in the book's favor. The second and more serious issue is the void at the center of the story. If we're going to have Jo as the sleuth, we need to know enough about her as a character--as a human being--in order to identify with her and therefore root for her to solve the crimes. This could be done very simply: in the first scene with her and Aggie, take a couple of paragraphs scattered throughout the scene to establish 1) who she is: what drives her? 2) why did she become a probation officer, and is it a career for her or just a stepping stone to elsewhere--or what pays the bills while she does whatever it is that drives her. The same needs to be done when she gets home: she lives alone, with two dogs. Why, precisely? Is she divorced, single, gay, both, neither? What's her personal life like? Again, this could be done very simply, with just a few sentences scattered among the description of her spending the night with the dogs keeping her awake. Then she's a person rather than a void.
- Dark Corners
on Nov. 11, 2012
Really, 3.5 more than 4. There's a good story in here, but the mixed-up chronology and the frankly unlikable main character detract from it.
The basic structure is really promising. She's a horror writer in a haunted house. Okay, tell me more. But too much of it is told rather than shown, and much too much of it is told in retrospect, a mode that should be used very sparingly for maximum effect. I think this would be a much stronger story if it started out with the couple moving in to the house, the ominous house bothering the woman and the man clueless, then have the husband's death take place at the hinge-point of the book instead of in the prologue. By the time the book starts, the way it is now, I already know too much, and the central premise of a horror novel, even a meta one like this, is that I don't yet know what's going on. It's more suspenseful if the husband isn't already dead. Then the woman's personality makes more sense, too: I get to see her at the beginning, optimistic or at least comparatively so, and then I'll sympathize with her when her husband is killed. As it is, it seems clear that her problems would be largely solved if she were to just move, and I therefore can't get it together to care about why she's so unpleasant.
- The Gostynin Shul
on Nov. 20, 2012
I got a quarter of the way into the book before I came up for air, so, this deserves a look from other readers. The central character is compelling, she makes sense in her environment, the conflict unfolds in such a way as to pique my interest, the writing is professional, flows well and is free of errors. A solid piece of work: much better than most of the other books I've picked up here.
Two criticisms, both easily fixed. You have the novice writer's habit of introducing a character by having them come up and say something, then telling us who they are and what their relationship to the narrator is. I get like one line of dialogue and then a wordy introduction to them. It breaks the willing suspension of disbelief that the narrator is experiencing events instead of telling me a story. Ming is a good example of this. I don't need to know all the detail about her background right away: piece it out to me when it's relevant. All I need to know right away is that she's the narrator's assistant, she's competent, her name is Ming and she can swear in Yiddish. If you don't give me her backstory, then I will *want* to know more about her, and be intrigued as you piece it out to me; all at once, the background is a little hard to buy into. It would be much more compelling if you just let her be herself--and much funnier if she actually used Yiddish when she swore. Yiddish is automatically funny because it's so close to English. Have the narrator fill in the translations when necessary.
The second issue is how you introduce Joanna. Yes, her blindness is compelling to US, but to HER it's everyday life. She's more or less adjusted to it. Someone in her position wouldn't start off her narrative with her blindness. I think it might make for a rather more compelling introduction if you had her walk into the institute, faithful dog with her, greet the various people that she knows, have an awkward moment with the docent, make it to her office--all without mentioning her blindness. Because these are the things she does every day: her handicap isn't much of a factor therein. Describe everything in non-visual terms, but do it subtly, so that once she stabs herself with the piece of glass, you reveal that she's blind, and why she has a shard of glass, and your reader will slap themself upside the head and say "D'oh! I shoulda figured it out from the dog and the way she described how people smelled." NOW that reader has been pulled into the story rather than pushed into it.
But on the whole, this is something if I picked up and flipped through, I'd keep going. So, kudos.
- Two Birds (A Short Mystery)
on Jan. 23, 2013
It's disarmingly short, because you've included a lot of material after the story itself. So, because the end came for me on page 16 out of 27, it seemed like a bit of an anticlimax, because I was expecting these characters to get developed more.
But in general, this is competent: it kept me moving through it. There are too many loose ends, however, to give it the fifth star.
One problem is his bloody clothes: you repeatedly mention that he's covered in blood (as is Leah) but they sit in the hospital waiting room, with other people, for some length of time like that. Nobody's going to stand around in wet, bloody clothes, and they certainly won't sit on chairs. This can be fairly easily rectified: the cops can show up right away, or the hospital people can insist they change and put on scrubs or whatever.
A more problematic issue is the lack of characterization of Daniel. His reactions are all over the place and his motivations unclear. He seems awfully sad about his wife's death for someone who killed her. And why did he kill her? Why not just leave her for the other woman, if all Kristine does is criticize him? If there's some other reason to kill her (e.g., insurance money), then adding that might help explain things. There's nothing except "he's a douche" to explain his murdering his wife. And yes, he may be a douche, but the story will be stronger if you can make it clearer how and especially why he's one.
- Chance of a Lifetime (Chances Are #1)
on Feb. 22, 2013
Okay, this was fun. If you read the blurb, you know you're getting something absolutely over the top absurd. And from the start, the book keeps its comic book narrative moving so quickly that rarely did I have the opportunity to sit back and say "This is preposterous." If you like comic book pacing and characterization, you'll like this: it's a well-done example of the genre.
on March 25, 2013
Too much buildup, not enough climax. It does move fast, I'll give it that; and the prose doesn't interfere with the story. But there's nothing human in this story to home in on. For the first two-thirds, you set the narrator up as sort-of human, in that he's motivated by love, or at least lust. Okay, he cares enough about the kid to get involved in sheer stupidity. But even someone as half-witted as he ought to realize that simply calling the authorities would be a much better option than breaking into the house: it's her kid, after all, not Eddie's, so an appeal to the authorities would extract the kid right away.
And then there's Tricia, whose character makes no sense at all. First problem: you have Jay describe her as a collection of female erogenous zones. We don't need to know the shape of her nipples: it makes it seem porny. She's hot; that's all we need to know. There's way too much backstory on their relationship: for one thing, you mention the accidental nature of the kid twice. They were hot and wrong for each other, but she appeared to care for her child: that's all we need to know. And it's moot in any case, because she suddenly morphs into flat-out evil halfway through. It destroys her as a plausible character. She's a hot mess, as you set her up: hot messes are SELF-destructive, not evil. Paired with Eddie, they're cartoon characters, not people. Jay never did anything to Tricia that would lead her to seek him out to kill him, so her wanting to is inconsistent with the long setup you've given.
If you stab someone in the belly, the blood won't spurt out: you need an artery to do that. A belly wound would seep. And there's no way Jay can walk away from this. The cops are going to show up, and his vomit will be on the tarp, his footprints and fingerprints on the house: he'll go down for murder. He can't leave without securing the scene, and he's enough of a low-life that he'll have to be aware of this. And you can't make the motivating factor the kid without having the kid be in there.
There's a germ of a story here: guy thinks he's a white knight but is really a victim. Now go back and rewrite it so the human motivations for both him and the others make sense. Jay has to have something the other two *need*: having them be sadistic spree killers is boring as well as unrealistic. Put the kid in there.