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Wild Awake
Hilary T. Smith
Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera
Bryan Peterson
Ten - Gretchen McNeil 2.5 starsI’m not familiar with And Then There Were None, though I understand that it served as the basis for this contemporary story of teen murder during a weekend house party. Now I kind of wish I’d read the Agatha Christie first, and not completely spoiled myself with Ten, as I have it on good authority that the original is brilliant. Which is my roundabout way of saying that this was not brilliant. But not terrible either. Being unaware of the plot twists made me curious enough to read Ten quickly, though I suspect if you’ve read Christie’s novel you’ll find it far less compelling. There’s a great, creepy atmosphere in the setting and use of the elements -(okay, so the storm was an obvious choice, but still, it works) and McNeil does a decent job of injecting some unease into the story from the get-go. Everything feels slightly wrong, off kilter, as Meg and her best friend embark on what’s meant to be a weekend of youthful debauchery. And truth be told, I kind of love the teen-slasher-flick vibe, where you know it’s going to be slightly be ridiculous, but find yourself sucked in by the mounting tension anyway. Seem I can’t resist a bit of “OMG the power’s out!” style panic. I had the killer pegged fairly quickly, although to McNeil’s credit she threw me off the scent a couple of times with some well executed red herrings. That said, there are also some broad hints as to why the killings might be happening, and I was surprised it took Meg so long to cop on. Coupled with a few clunky horror allusions which weren’t necessary to dial up the tension, the novel at times feels like it’s trying too hard to hammer home the scariness. I think this could have been demonstrated more subtly through stronger writing, as opposed to simply signposting the moments we’re supposed to find tense with obvious, telling statements. The writing in general felt a little like first person narration dressed up in third-person. There were some awkward sections of exposition that seemed better suited to Meg’s internal voice. Given that there’s also a relatively large cast of characters (ten! Surprise!) for a short novel, there’s not a lot of time for deep characterisation. That means that we get amplified, shorthand versions of each character, their personalities cranked up as loud as possible for maximum impact in an abbreviated amount of time. It’s not completely successful either. I found myself briefly thinking ’who the heck is Lori again?, which somewhat lessens the effect of the later scenes. Also, the “silver lining” mentioned at the end of the novel? Seriously? No. I’m willing to suspend all manner of belief in terms of the killer’s action and motivations, but I still expect realistic responses from the characters. And the whole “look on the bright side!” element of the ending really annoyed me. Not that I’m opposed to that particular eventuality, just that it seemed distasteful to plonk it down it right there in the aftermath of a murderous rampage. Gripes with the execution aside, this was actually pretty diverting and kept me turning pages quickly.