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Book Review: Ghost Shadow: Unfinished Sins by Bob MacKenzie

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Ghost Shadow: Unfinished Sins is a “mystery” crime novel about Asian gangs running rampant in Windsor (that’s Canada if you didn’t know, hot bed of international gang activity) trying to get their hands on an ancient treasure that was looted and smuggled to Canada. The main character, Payge Turner (this book is labeled as a “Payge Turner Mystery.” Yep.), a former cop turned teacher and part time private detective (with mental issues that we never quite learn about), is tasked early on with searching for a girl who has gone missing. Her mother is worried sick but her father, who I guess is supposed to be the main villain of the book, doesn’t seem to care at all that she is missing and wants Payge off the case.

I really hate writing reviews like this, but the truth of the matter is that Ghost Shadow just does not deliver on any level. The plot is weak and the characters, especially the supposed main character who could honestly be removed from the book entirely without anyone noticing, are paper thin and expendable.

I had a big problem believing that Asian gangs would travel thousands of miles, waste valuable member lives (including one as dangerous and connected as the titular Ghost Shadow), spending god knows how much money, all to get two million dollars in jewels stolen from a temple? Really? The cost of the operations alone had to cost this much. What is the point? But I guess I can forgive that. We’re talking about a mystery novel, right?

The thing that I can’t forgive and to me this is the greatest flaw in this book, is that fact that the main character is entirely pointless to the story. She is hardly involved in the main plot at all. Like I mentioned earlier, she is hired to find the daughter. She happens to spot this completely obvious macguffin that might as well have a neon sign flashing on it that reads “I’m Important!” Of course she doesn’t realize this until the end, but by then I didn’t really care because I was too angry at her for getting knocked out every five minutes and being possibly the most passive character in modern fiction. She does NOTHING in the story. Everything is a reaction, in fact it’s an overreaction. The author mentions more than once that Payge doesn’t cry, yet throughout the course of the book she cries several times. She spends most of the story seemingly on the edge of a nervous breakdown. She really makes for a weak character, especially for one who is to be the star of what seems like a series of books.

The author also shoehorns in completely unnecessary characters and plot points. There is an entire serial rapist storyline that really only serves as a means to introduce a completely throwaway character who comes in nearly 3/4ths of the way through the book. He also reveals a monstrous secret about one of his main characters that comes so far out of left field it’s jarring, and then does absolutely nothing with this revelation. It’s like: by the way, this guy also does this in case you didn’t have enough reason to not like him. I guess he does it so we can sympathize with another character more? But that’s pointless because this character is also just scenery like the majority of the characters end up feeling like.

That really is the meat of the issue. There is no stand out character to root for. No one to take control.

Honestly, the author can stand to lose a lot of this book, and it could be turned into a slick thriller. Instead, we have a overwrought, convoluted story with paper thin characters that I had to struggle to finish. Unfortunately, as it stands it just doesn’t work, at least for me.  The author isn’t a bad writer.  He has a grasp of prose and language, but the plotting and the characters just aren’t there yet.

I said it before, I really hate writing this kind of review. I think if the author sat down and rethought a few things, cut out a lot of other things, and retooled his heroine a bit he could have had a special book here. Thankfully, in the world of digital releases (should the author decide to do so), that is still a possibility.

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