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Book Review: One Big Itch by Sara Williams

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Set in gorgeous Honolulu, One Big Itch follows Detective John Spyers’ investigation into the death of his childhood friend, Randy Haverhill. After being stalked for the longest time, possibly by one of the many women he has had affairs with (and for which his first wife, Eva, left him), Randy is shot and a note is pinned to his back. And the way things initially look, his son Toby is the one who committed the murder.

But things are not as they seem, and a seemingly simple case becomes more and more complex as the various layers of Randy’s life are peeled away to reveal a deeply flawed man.

The story in itself is very interesting. The many twists and turns that Sara Williams leads us through are intelligent and work well with one another. It can be extremely frustrating to read a book in which not all the clues are given from the beginning, and the author seeks to thrill its audience with a surprise essential piece of information. This is one trap Sara Williams does not fall into. Once you finish the book, you realise that the clues were there from the first couple of pages; you are given all the clues that John Spyer is given.

However, there are some problems that are made which quite unfortunately take away from an otherwise great plot.

The chapters were cut at awkward moments in the plot, making the story a little difficult to follow at times. Also, some chapters start somewhere totally unexpectedly, and in a way that leaves the reader a little dizzy, looking back a page or two to figure out what in the world happened.

There is also a lot of Hawaii geography and history lessons. Some of it is beautifully blended into the story, so much so that we barely notice it. But an important part of it is rather clumsily added in some sections, which took away from the great plot.

Most of the great authors that I read manage to balance out giving enough information to their readers so that they don’t feel lost, yet keeping enough information at bay that the reader has to keep reading in order to figure out what is happening. Sara Williams does a great job working the overall plotline. As I mentioned above, we are given the clues to solving the case right from the beginning; all the information is there right from the beginning, and if the reader is paying attention, can come to the same conclusions before Spyer voices them on paper. However, the chapter to chapter advancement of information isn’t done as well. Information is sometimes haphazardly tossed about, without any warning nor justification. At times, the story becomes a big ball of information the reader has to unknot.

The other thing that made this book a little tough to read is the lack of mood setting and general description. For example, John Spyer visits a place where he and Randy used to play. You would think that, right after the death of a childhood friend, John Spyer would take a minute or two to reflect on his friend’s life, perhaps fondly remember a specific memory, a scent, the sound of laughter – but no, he doesn’t. He mentions what the place means and then moves on.

One last thing that took away from the plot was the fact that there were many loose ends. For example, John Spyers’ sister was an important arc of the story; so is his girlfriend, Maya. But both aren’t mentioned nearly enough; not because of a lack of word count, but rather because of a lack of depth.

All in all, One Big Itch still remains an interesting read, a good novel and a solid performance from Sara Williams. The characters engaging enough that I am thinking of picking up Sara Williams’ second novel, The Serenoa Scandal, a prequel to One Big Itch which follows Maya on an adventure of her own — which will hopefully not repeat some of the mistakes from One Big Itch which took away from its great plot.

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