Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holiday NY; Cereal Out of the Box; John Twelve Hawks

As you might imagine, the holidays in NY can be brutal, especially in the publishing business. Thriller Guy is exhausted after rushing from party to party as publishers vie to outdo one another with these lavish affairs. Don't be fooled by their protestations of poverty, their slashing of writer's advances, the cutbacks in the fact-checking department; they're eating mighty high on the hog while their writers struggle in unheated lofts, damp basements, slaving away in Bob Cratchit gloves over chilly keyboards. Trust me, fellow scribblers, no matter what they say, they're living way better than you are.

Constant readers know that TG likes to steal snippets from Garrison Kieler's Writers Notebook. Here's a piece from today's by Paul Rudnick, a regular at The New Yorker and scripter of note: "As a writer, I need an enormous amount of time alone. Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It's a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write. Having anybody watching that or attempting to share it with me would be grisly."

And Now to Business: John Twelve Hawks.

On July, 4, 2005, Bantam Press published The Traveler: Book One in the Fourth Realm Series, a Fantasy/Science Fiction thriller about a future dystopian society where an evil corporation rules the US and is bent on enslaving all of mankind. The author, writing as John Twelve Hawks, had snagged a million dollar advance for the trilogy and declared himself “off the grid," meaning he used no credit cards, had no telephone, nothing that anyone, especially the government, could use to track him down. This was a pretty cool premise and the industry was rife with guesses as to who Twelve Hawks really was. TG offered the opinion that Hawks was, in reality, Joyce Carol Oates, writing under yet another pen name because there are just too many books in that little lady to publish each and every one under her own name. Everyone scoffed, but TG remains of this same opinion.

The last of the three books has recently been published. They are, in order: The Traveler, The Dark River, and The Golden City. TG has reviewed all three of these books and was a big booster of the first, The Taveler. TG loves big fat books, especially series, that promise him hours and hours spent buried in fascinating pages rather than in this vale of tears that is his regular life. (Easy, TG, the narrative is starting to get away from you.) So he overlooked some problematic scenes, some inconsistencies, some clunky writing, to give the book a good review, especially in the hopes that the next two books would be even better.

In the second book, Twelve Hawks went "dark" spending most of the time in a particularly grim realm where various primitive groups stalked and killed each other on a blasted island lit only by flaming gas pipes. In general, it is in the nature of trilogies for an author to go dark in the second book, TG is not sure why, perhaps after the exhilaration of the first novel one feels the need to buckle down and get serious, and serious often seems to mean dark, but that is the way it often goes. Then in the third book quite often the author wakes from this pall and gets back into the spirit of the first book and kicks some serious ass. So, number two received a respectful, if guarded, review from TG.

Unfortunately, Hawks doesn't kick nearly enough ass in this last book, The Golden City. What TG wanted to see is a global war of Good against Evil, where the world's armies clash, the globe is enshrouded in a pall of smoke and dust, entire populations are fried in their homes, swords clash, bombs fall, and in the end there is only destruction and weeping, weeping, weeping. Here, though, the climax comes with the hero making a long last philosophical speech, exhorting his followers to rise up and take back their world. The long speech is OK, I didn't mind that too much, but then instead of showing us how the streets were taken back and how everyone across the globe joins together and rises up, he simply tells us that this happens. A few pages of wrap-up and that's it. I understand that it would have added another hundred pages or so to the book and the publisher would have squealed like Ned Beatty in Deliverance, but instead of the reader being left exhausted and triumphant, one puts the book down with a vague feeling of only what might have been.

But, TG must always keep telling himself that it's not his job to write the book he's reviewing, but to simply review the book he's reading.

All of this makes the series sound bad, which it isn't. Hundreds of personal reviewers on Amazon.com will attest to that. Many will love it; many won't. Read them in order. TG hopes you won't be disappointed. Don't worry about John Twelve Hawks, he got his million bucks, he doesn't care what you think anyway, he's off the grid.

Hey Twelve Hawks! This is Thriller Guy here! It could have been better, man, you could have worked a little harder, listened to an editor, asked a friend his or her honest opinion, pushed it when you were tired, gone beyond philosophy and politics. You could have been a real contender.

You should have kicked some ass; instead, you tried to make a point.

Too bad.


  1. Great review of Hawks's offerings, however you skimmed over the part about the lavish New York publishing parties. Let's hear more about them. Which ones were the best, the worst, the most pretentious and annoying? How was the food and drink? You complain about 12 Hawks rushing along to the end. Don't you do the same to us, TG. Give us details!