What do a dead realtor, a sexy redhead, a missing photograph, a retired chief of police from Eagle River, Wisconsin, a secret society, Palm Springs and a slew of mid-century tract homes that may or may not have been owned by movie stars have in common?
These are the key elements of For Sale in Palm Springs, a book by novelist Albert Simon (© 2004-2010 by DesertDreaming.com at Smashwords.com, ISBN 0-976200-34-1) a thoroughly delightful murder mystery that could have been, but sadly isn’t.
It’s too bad. The material is there. Everything you need to make for a good, stay up late, sit on the edge of the chair, page turning thriller. You have a lush setting. Likable characters. A few dead ends. A decent, likable protagonist in the retired cop turned consultant, and a few wacky comic relief characters. All that’s missing is the thread that stitches them all neatly together.
Good novels are good stories that are well told. Simon has a good story. The problem is that he doesn’t tell it well. It may be forgiven since his native written and spoken language is Nederlands (Dutch), and this is his first novel, although at 160 pages, ‘novel’ is a bit of a stretch by today’s standards.
Simon’s mistake is two-fold. Good writing ‘shows’ rather than tells. Simon tells rather than shows. And he is in desperate need of good editing, something I find to be a problem with many self-published writers. The best story in the world will fail to gather an audience if it is poorly edited.
The problems with this first attempt are legion. The dialogue sections are not only shaky – remember this is not his first language – but every single one of them is tagged. He said. She replied. He answered. She agreed. That just isn’t necessary. Now and then, yes, but not every spoken line. The dialogue isn’t believable. When characters interact, you have to believe they would speak the way they do. I didn’t.
Another problem has to do with things like describing an action the same way repeatedly. In one page and a half section, a character is twice described as “turning the same color s her hair”. The same description is used of the other character in the scene: “It was his turn to turn the color of her hair.” This descriptive technique is used in other places as well, as if the writer ran out of ways to creatively not show the action.
Lastly, the story runs on for about 150 pages and then just wraps up a little too quickly and a little too neatly for my tastes. Dame Agatha and super sleuth Hercule Poirot can get away this. Albert Simon and Henry Wight aren’t there yet.
For Sale in Palm Springs is the first of five Henry Wright mysteries, and perhaps they get better. The seed is there, but it needs more time to be harvested. 2 ½ stars out of five for this first attempt.
Tampa readers can find For Sale in Palm Springs online at Smashwords.com, where it is available in every major e-reader format, .pdf, and rich text format, and this one is a free download. Other books in the series are at Smashwords.com for a paltry 99 cents, so it’s obvious Simon isn’t writing to make the next Harry Potter, although, even at 99 cents, if you sold 100,000 of them, that makes for a nice paycheck. But this one is a free download, and I’ve read worse.