Mayforth Kendrick III is an unlikely name for a small-time drug dealer. As the grandson of a millionaire and the son of a Broadway mogul, Kendrick was minted for success from birth. But a fondness for controlled substances cut his education short, forcing him to make a living pushing drugs on the theater glitterati with whom he once mingled.
New York Star reporter John Wells, who occasionally uses Kendrick as a source, may be his only friend. He is also one of the last to see him alive. He visits Kendrick’s seedy Alphabet City apartment because the young man has pictures to sell showing a Senate candidate involved in unsavory extramarital activities. Never a muckraker, Wells passes on them.
The next day Kendrick is murdered and the pictures are gone. Wells smells a scoop, if he can only find the killer.
After going four whole weeks without reading ANY crime fiction at all, I was getting twitchy. Crime fiction is my guilty pleasure. In the same way that some readers see chick-lit as a ‘wind down’ or ‘easy read’, or as a break from reading Other books; I watch TV cop dramas, I read Scandi Noir, I delve into mysteries and thrillers, and I love every second of it.
Because there IS a catch. I like crime thrillers, but they have to be GOOD. They have to be clever and interesting and mysterious and gripping and nerve-wracking. At risk of sounding a bit pretentious, they have to be well written and intelligent. I don’t like crime fiction when it’s shown/written as overly gratuitous, unnecessarily gory, easily solved or otherwise extremely far-fetched. I’m fairly ‘old school’ in that my absolute favourite crime fiction authors include Colin Dexter, Henning Mankel, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Val McDermid and Anthony Boucher; with Asa Larsson, Arnaldur Indridason and Kjell Eriksson heading up my most loved Scandi Noir list. I don’t like crime if it’s basically just horror with a few policemen thrown in. I love detail, but can’t stand graphic torture porn scenes. To me, a good crime novel is where the ACTUAL crime is the tiniest part of the narrative, with the rest of the book dedicated to the looping, multi-layered, complex roller-coaster ride of the investigation. Oh, and I appreciate a bit of humour thrown in, if the author so wishes.
I don’t think my preferences are all that unreasonable or exhaustive, and unless a cover/blurb/goodreads entry REALLY puts me off a crime novel, I’m usually happy to give it a go. I was excited and apprehensive, therefore, to be offered the chance to review a copy of Andrew Klavan’s 2011 thriller The Rain, as although it has been available for 2 years now, I hadn’t really heard much about it or Klavan himself, and I was curious to see if it could match up to recent crime releases The Man From Primrose Lane and Everyone Lies (review coming soon); two new titles/authors that have resolutely marched into the favourites list and well-deservedly so.
To be absolutely blunt, it did not, and as a result I was sadly disappointed. The premise of the book – an investigation written from the viewpoint of a reporter, and not the police, lawyers or close acquaintances of the victim – promised an individual and interesting perspective that sadly was not delivered to the quality of it’s promise. I was intrigued to see the drama unravel through the eyes of John Wells, an investigative reporter for a major local tabloid, as the press generally take a back seat in most crime fiction, usually spoke of only as a torment, nuisance or background paragraph filler; but unfortunately this turned out to be a tawdry, coarse and often unappetizing view of events rather spoiled by sleazy undertones and cheap dialogue.
I could not sympathize with Wells at all despite his many unsavoury misfortunes and the fact that he finds himself so personally caught up in the case he is investigating, because in many of the instances he himself is as much to blame for any wrongdoing as the perpetrators he is seeking to expose. As the book develops, Wells is continuously forced to decide between abiding by his personal morals and following his animalistic journalism instincts, egged on by his gutter-seeking bosses who will stop at nothing to get hold of a scoop. As he gets drawn deeper and deeper into the murky mire of political ambition, drug trafficking, violent conduct and religious insanity, Wells reveals himself to be a flawed and confused man, torn between his past ambitions and the seedy situations he presently finds himself in – but still we discover hardly anything about who he really is outside of the ‘here and now’ of The Rain, and as a result, I found it incredibly hard to connect to him, root for him or even understand why he himself was so heavily invested in what he was doing.
In addition to Wells himself, the book itself is rather seedy, describing in almost relishing tones acts of prostitution, murder, torture, sexual affairs and gangland style backstabbing. Though nothing was described that would necessarily shock an existing fan of book or movie thrillers, most of it seemed unnecessary and as though it was only there to try and shock, and not because it offered anything crucial or artistic to the plot. To aim at dark and moody is perfectly fine, yet I felt that The Rain landed more on the shady side than the deep and interesting side. Much of the humour is coarse and unethical and none of the characters particularly affable; indeed by the final few chapters I was distinctly annoyed by everyone I was reading about, and in an ‘I-don’t-really-mind-what-happens-to any-of-them-any-more’ way rather than a ‘movie-villain-who-everyone-loves-to-hate’ way. And, for a murder mystery, there really wasn’t very much mystery – compared to the plots of Doyle, McDermid or Nesbo, who keep you guessing until the end, The Rain had no real surprises or grand unveiling with the only notable twist coming so close to the end that by that point it was conspicuous by its absence and you were expecting it anyway.
Overall, I found The Rain extremely disappointing and weak in terms of plot, characters and development; a great shame as the original premise had a lot of potential and an interesting USP – written via a reporter rather than a PC/lawyer. I was put off by the constant ‘dingy’ feel of the book and the questionable motivations of Wells, and by the fact that there was little originality or complexity shown in the unraveling of the original murder, there were no ‘hooks’ to keep me speculating in suspense or in fear. I’d figured out the eventual conclusion just over half-way in, which almost put me off reading to the end. Another thing that irritated me throughout the book was the consistent use of extremely short sentences, giving an awkward and stilted voice to the narrative and interfering with any attempted build up of pace and excitement.
I was sad to dislike The Rain so much as it promised a rather unique angle that I haven’t come across much before in the crime genre; but I am committed to giving a totally honest review, and as such in all honesty my overwhelming opinion was that it read a little too amateurishly to be a strong contender amongst the many other great crime novels around, old and new alike. With a little character overhaul and some structural editing, John Wells might be turned into a brilliant protagonist, but as he stands now I don’t see myself actively seeking out any more of his literary adventures.
Disclaimer: This book was gifted to me by the authors publicity team, working through NetGalley, in exchange for a fair review. I did not receive any payment for this post, nor I am affiliated with the author or any sales of this book