Reviewed by: BigAl
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.
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