Poisoned Pen Press let me down. I don’t blame the author, although I suppose I could. But the author and I didn’t have a history, an established relationship, a rapport if you will, and from my perspective it was going really well. Poisoned Pen Press published good novels, and I like to purchase and read good novels, so it was what amounted to a beautiful friendship.
I’d met a few of their authors, along with one of their founders and editor-in-chief Barbara Peters, and I’d even been fortunate enough to have two of their authors blurb my debut mystery novel, so if this were a batting cage, I’d be knocking every single ball out of the park. I ended up lost in worlds created by Jon Talton, Frederick Ramsay, Tammy Kaehler, Rachel Brady, and Dana Stabenow, clipping along at a nice, even pace, and then this disaster slammed me into a brick wall, the airbag deployed, and I ended up with a rather severe case of whiplash.
If I had to sum up how I felt while reading A CRACK IN EVERYTHING, I’d say it was similar to being audited by the IRS. Not that I’ve been audited before (and if any IRS employees are Goodreads members, I’d really appreciate your continued support in keeping me off of the naughty list).
So what caused this mother of all letdowns? Like any major car accident, it wasn’t a particular incident that pushed me over the edge, but several little instances that caused the ensuing explosion. The biggest offense (and I thought of my wife as I read this, since she lived in the Boston area by choice and New Mexico by accident) was that it didn’t feel like Boston. Sure, Angela Gerst name-dropped Waltham and Moody Street and Harvard Square and the North End and Charlestown and Newton and Brookline and Chestnut Hill Mall and Copley Place and I believe there might have even been a T reference, as well as other hotspots around the city, but it felt more Mississippi than Massachusetts. This isn’t Robert B. Parker’s Boston, that’s for darn sure. The novel lacked even a basic grit that’s normally present in the Boston area, and certainly nowhere near the caliber of Dennis Lehane, who really lets his love for the city shine through on every single page of his novels. This brings me to another point. Ms. Gerst is originally from New York, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s the mother of all sins to a Boston native. She would have been better off just flat-out lying about that part in her bio (and saying she was from Iraq or Iran), or just eliminating it altogether. This is a feud so hot and heavy that a David Ortiz jersey buried at the new Yankee Stadium made The New York Times.
Let me stop for a moment here. I realize Susan Callisto is from California and so she’s a transplant (as was I for over two years), but she should have adapted to her surroundings. I also realize the novel is written in first person, so she’s not going to use words like idear, or pahking the cah, lobstah, or chowdah. But the people who were natives of the city should have spoken in Boston accents more than one time in the whole novel. Just dropping a word here and there would have added an underlying realism that just didn’t seem to be there. Dunkin’ Donuts, the business of choice for many a Massachusetts resident, didn’t receive a single mention. With over 80 stores in the Boston city limits alone, it was the equivalent of discovering some sort of alternate universe. And maybe that’s what this novel attempted to do all along. If so, it has certainly succeeded. But if it really was supposed to be set in reality, I have included the link to The Wicked Good Guide to Boston English, along with a few choice words and phrases (stolen from aforementioned site), since Boston does indeed have its own language.
Av – an avenue with a long name, for example, Massachusetts Avenue becomes Mass-av; Commonwealth Avenue, Comm-av.
Bubbla – that’s a water fountain to you, bub.
Chowdahead – stupid person. The phrase has spread westa Wihsta, but it’s definitely of local origins.
Dunkie’s – the donut shop on the corner.
Frappe – a milkshake or malted elsewhere, it’s basically ice cream, milk and chocolate syrup blended together. The ‘e’ is silent.
Frickin’ – the F-word as an adjective in polite company. “Often paired with ‘wicked,’ creating the sublime poetry of ‘The Ozzy cawncert wuz frickin’ wicked!'”
Jimmies – those little chocolate thingees you ask the guy at the ice-cream store to put on top of your cone.
The Pike – the Massachusetts Turnpike. Also, the world’s longest parking lot, at least out by Sturbridge on the day before Thanksgiving.
Rotary – a traffic circle. One of Massachusetts’ two main contributions to the art of traffic regulation (the other being the red-and-yellow pedestrian-crossing light).
Wicked – a general intensifier: “He’s wicked nuts!”
Here’s a link to the full site: The Wicked Good Guide To Boston English
Update – If you need a good laugh, you should check out the love that this same review has received on Amazon. To view the affection, click here. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I still stand behind my original review, possibly even a bit taller than I did before. And I will say I’m a bit disappointed if this is the best they’ve got.