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Book Review: Behind the Screen by Mark Stone

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Behind the Screen is the first novel by Mark Stone. And there is no delicate way to put it – it is terrible.

The story concerns John, an IT security specialist at a Palm Desert financial company. He is put in charge of a new project, weeding out spam, viruses, and inappropriate messages within the company’s email system. Along the way, John has numerous entanglements: there is the co-worker who wants to just be friends; the other co-worker who could end up “the one”; the online flirtation that turns out to be 17; and a revolving door of mall chicks that fill his coffee breaks.

According to the blurb on the back of the book, John comes across an illicit email between an employee and a Hollywood star. He sells these secrets to the gossip rags to get out of gambling debts, but when he wants out of the deal, the tabloids won’t let him. On top of that, John becomes embroiled in a plot to murder that same celebrity.

I got 100 pages into this book before I had to give up. A hundred pages in, and there was no intrigue, no mystery, no thrills. Up to that point, it was a boring run-around with John’s day-to-day life. I don’t need to know how he spends every day; I don’t need such detailed info about the IT department, or inconsequential characters. With so much attention to trivial details (such as a flashback to an almost-threesome that had nothing to do with anything in the story, but comes across as bragging), I had a hunch that this book was semi “autobiographical.” Flipping to the author’s bio on the back flap, I find that Stone is a vet of the IT industry for twenty years. Stone tries to spice it up with dirty emails, but it doesn't help. In fact, one of the emails alludes to BDSM (this is one of the emails that is "mentioned" but never printed), but the author comes across as being disdainful of the practice. It is just flat-out boring.

Boring I can handle. But the book is horribly written. Stone’s prose is simplistic at best, grammatically weak at worst. The character dialogue is atrocious. It is not realistic at all, and embarrassing at some parts. For example, several (Caucasian) characters slip into Ebonics, but bad Ebonics from the early 1990s. While chatting online, John — a man in his late 30s — uses such ridiculous chat shorthand that I feel like I am reading the MySpace page of a 14-year-old girl. It gave me a headache to read.

A hundred pages in, and I decided this book was not worthy of any more of my time.

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