Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Head Count / Russell Cruse

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Approximate word count: 130-135,000 words

Kindle US:
YES UK: YES Nook: YES Smashwords: YES Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store


A resident of the UK, Russell Cruse also has a novella, The Circling Song, available from Amazon for your Kindle. For more, visit the author’s website.


A series of deaths among the students at St. Wilfred’s School starts looking less like the obvious, accidents and suicides, and more like a serial killer with an agenda. David Benedict, a teacher at the school, and local journalist Rebecca Daley combine forces to investigate.


This is a good enough story with a mystery to solve and a plot complex enough to keep the reader guessing along with an intense ending. However, what could have been a decent read suffered due to some miscues in the execution. Relatively minor were some format and proofreading errors. A bigger problem was portions of the story that were misleading or contradicted what had come before. There were enough of these, many minor and one major, to kill a story full of potential. I’ll give two examples, one minor plus the major one, in vague terms so the story won’t be spoiled for those who want to decide on their own.

The minor example involves some Swiss bank accounts. At a point in the story where several months went by without much happening, there was a section of narrative that talked about what little did happen over that period. One of the lines seemed to imply that the authorities looked at these accounts. “The Swiss banking system did its thing, and no-one knew what the accounts contained, nor even if they had ever been drawn on.” Yet a plot point shortly after depends on knowledge of these accounts being limited to a few people, none of them anyone in authority. Re-reading the quoted sentence, it is vague and open to several interpretations, one of which is “nothing happened”; in retrospect, the correct interpretation. In the context of the paragraph where the sentence is found, telling what did happen over the time covered, this was misleading, at best. Not mentioning these bank accounts at all would be a better way to show nothing happening.

The major example happens at a chapter end, just as the story starts rapidly building toward its climax. The narration again implies that something major will happen to one of the characters (what, I won’t say). When I read it, I made a note asking, “Why is he telling us this is going to happen?” It struck me at the time as ham-handed foreshadowing. When what was implied didn’t happen, at least not in this book, it felt like the narrator was lying to the reader. It occurred to me that the author might have been using what is called an “unreliable narrator,”
on purpose. If so, the reason for doing so in the context of this story totally escapes me.


Uses UK spelling conventions and slang.

Format/Typo Issues:

Head Count had a large number of what I perceived as typos and other proofing errors. A large number of these were not including what I’ll call “little words,” articles, prepositions, and such, where it felt like they belonged and were needed. This is a tendency I’ve seen in many authors from the UK; however, when I’ve seen this before, the “missing” words didn’t usually trip me up in my reading as much as happened with Head Count and, in most cases, the words didn’t seem required. A couple of examples with what I think was missing are, “The weather was, if anything, worse [than] it had been the day before …” and “She says you planned [to] let her drop …” Excluding these situations, Head Count still had a small number of typos and proofing errors.

The copy of the book I had (a Kindle format from Smashwords) had a widespread formatting problem with the font size changing. I believe this might be caused by designating a specific font size in the problem sections rather than using the default size, which can be set by the individual reader. This issue happened with entire chapters as well as random sections and even random words.

Rating: ** Two stars


Shilpa said...

A very honest review and that's a difficult task to accomplish. Thanks!

Russell Cruse said...

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to offer such a thorough review of my story. I’m sorry that you didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped you might and I hope you won’t mind if I attempt to answer a number of your criticisms, particularly with respect to the plot points.

Firstly, in the matter of the Swiss bank accounts, the intention is to make it clear that Elizabeth is keeping her head down for a while. The only people aware of the existence of the accounts are Daley, Benedict, Eleanor (and, later, Kurz). The only people who know the numbers are Daley and Benedict and (as is made clear) they are interested only in informing Elizabeth that they have deciphered the compound. The reference to the fact that no-one draws on the accounts is intended to let the reader know that Daley has been keeping an eye on them, in case Elizabeth manages to reach a similar conclusion. I realise that this is perhaps not made as clear as it could have been and I shall bear it in mind in future editions.

The second, “more major” case is, I agree, more problematic. It is merely a device to increase tension. Although it is narrated, the entire passage forms a kind of reverie on the part of Benedict and is written in a far more subjective way than anything else in the story; and deliberately so, precisely to misdirect the reader. I can only apologise if you felt cheated. I was rather hoping that the reader (when the denouement is revealed) would accept the subterfuge as being an assumption on Benedict’s part, made on the basis of the evidence.

I wonder if you might be persuaded to let me have details of the “many minor” plot flaws to which you refer. I would be most grateful for the opportunity to iron them out.

The points you make about typos and formatting are rather more concerning. There have been a number of revisions that have, I trust, dealt with those concerns although the Smashwords edition is not one that I have updated regularly. However, the Kindle and paperback versions are considerably better edited and presented.
Indeed, I wonder how fair it is (even had no new editions been published) to leave a comment critical of formatting and editing on Smashwords attached to the Amazon editions of the story.

Nevertheless, thank you very much for the review. The closeness of your reading is extremely impressive and whilst I might wonder that two perceived plotting problems should result in such a poor rating, I cannot fault your dedication to the craft of reviewing.

Russell Cruse