The Scott Cullen series: Book One, Ghost in the Machine. By Ed James.

Hello readers!

So I’ve been meaning to do this book review for at least two or three months now, but every time I sit down to do it I can never quite put the words down the way I want to. I figured I’d just go ahead this time and see what came out, so forgive me if perhaps I am a little coarse.

Ghost in the Machine by Ed James is an… interesting… book. I can tell you now it’s not one I would have read ordinarily, but the title was what drew me in (cue embarrassed sci-fi reader face here). That said, it was a good enough book to read but it wasn’t one that really struck any chords with me, besides a few tritones and dissonants for any musicians out there. It’s a crime/murder mystery novel focusing on Scott Cullen, a police officer who is set to case investigating a string of murders that takes him all across Scotland. He himself is eventually dragged into the murderer’s plans, but escapes by a hair and the murderer is eventually prosecuted. Scott gets a happy ending and everything ends well.

So, why didn’t this one really drag my interest? First of all, I don’t usually read crime novels. I’ve always found them to be far too predictable and lacking in mystery. They’re often not well-written, and rely heavily on tropey ideas of repetitive plot sequences. Someone dies, cops are called, investigation commences, bit of a chase (if you’re lucky), murderer is caught, judge and jury send that person to jail, lead cop gets a promotion, happy endings for everyone. It’s always tied up into a nice, neat little package, and for me it’s a sign of lazy writing and a lack of interest in the plot from the author. Unfortunately, Ghost in the Machine very much followed that formula and it was a bit depressing. In my time as a reader I’ve only ever read one other book from this genre and I hated it. Not because it was boring and tropey, but because it was gross and very graphic (think entrails on the floor and graphic, detailed descriptions of people’s ears getting cut off and shipped to unsuspecting victims), with little attention paid to the character development of anyone who wasn’t the antagonist.

As an author myself, I don’t know what to be sadder for. James’ lack of interest in his work, or the way the book suffered from tropes, repetition and predictability. Either way, the book did have the potential to be something more, but it wasn’t developed to the point where I could have a good impression of it. The best thing about it was that the characters were at least full-bodied and not 2D on the page; rather they strutted about the book as did their thing like any good character should.

What to take away from it? Don’t fall into the trope trap! It’s a very easy thing for an author to do, especially when you’re not feeling so great about your own work. Make your work shine. I’ve often found that the easiest way to do that is to not worry about the mistakes in the first draft; it’s often full of what authors call a ‘word spew’. The second draft can be used to help fix the major plot holes and anything else, and the final draft is for cleaning up the stray adverbs and grammar. Of course you don’t have to do it that way, but it’s a good approach to take. Another thing I’ve found useful is to let the draft sit for a few months, and go back to it with a clear mind. That way you can see everything without the emotional attachment, and edit accordingly.

As far as recommendations are concerned, unless you’re looking for an easy read I would say avoid Ghost in the Machine.  There’s really not much more to say on the topic.

As always, stay tuned for my next review!

Never stop reading;

AdmiralCarter.

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