Reviewed by: Keith Nixon
Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words
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Matthew Pink grew up in Cumbria where his debut novel, Scafell is based. Matthew has undertaken a wide variety of jobs whilst travelling extensively across Europe and Latin America.
You can learn more about Matthew at his website.
Stephen ‘Sparky’ Markham has just relocated to Cumbria for a slower pace of life. After a career in the police and then the army he’s earned it. He’s also trying to get over a recent family tragedy. Thankfully his best friend and ex-partner Detective Charlie Slider also lives locally.
But a life of walking and bird watching is rudely interrupted by the discovery of a mutilated body and a face from the past.
This is one of those books that’s part promise, part frustration. It started well with a descriptive view of the local area as a backdrop to a local finding a body. Sparky himself is a troubled protagonist with a blemished background (only at the end do we determine quite how stained he is). It gives him depth and appeal. Slider is also intriguing, one of those people who is constant trouble, but you can’t help but like. We’ve all known them.
There’s also a degree of topical interest resulting from a company who wish to start exploration for oil by a fracking process, the owner of which is one Silas Mourner, who appears to have dubious connections with the criminal fraternity.
But the problems began to appear. The prose is at times, and in particular during the last two-thirds of the book, incredibly descriptive. Great if you like this sort of thing, personally I struggled with it because of the regularity. An example:
…out stepped a tall man in an olive green plaid suit with a sky blue and tan check, a crisp white shirt and an orange tie tied with a half-Windsor knot. In his breast pocket was a silk orange handkerchief which matched the colour of his tie exactly. His shoes were tan brogues, gleaming with polish and his stride was heel first, confident and maybe a little over-compensated. His skin was pale and smooth apart from some burst capillaries underneath his eyes, his face long and angular with an imposing nose which looked sharply curved in the low light of the pub. His hair, which was combed tightly and wetly back over his head, was the colour of sweetened mustard you get in low-grade American-style hot-dog joints.
There were many descriptions like this, targeted on people and the surrounding area. Again personally I struggled to put together the vast colour range the guy was wearing, but critically I felt his dress sense wasn’t relevant to the story – so why go to the effort?
…a can of crimson worms was opened into the sky’s canvas above me. They were followed by yellow and gold serpentine strands, electric blue fruits and green semaphores which all rose and hung in the air for a few glorious seconds in the symmetrical pattern of a butterfly and then dissolved into stardust.
Having to stop and read / digest such long descriptive phrases interrupted the story’s flow, which was generally of a decent pace otherwise. Eventually I just skipped over these long sentences.
At times there was too much of a stretch in belief. When Slider goes missing, Chief Constable Bullman pulls Sparky in to help, the premise being Sparky has aided Slider in previous cases and Bullman wanted Slider’s disappearance kept quiet. But this secrecy doesn’t last long and the whole point is lost.
In a final scene a mystery person pops up in Sparky’s aid, but it’s not explained who this was (that I could see anyway) which was a degree of frustration.
Finally there were a number of technical issues, such as spelling mistakes. Sparky has a Lugar pistol – I think this is supposed to be a Luger (I searched for the former and couldn’t find a reference). Others included hyperthermia, reneg and pArtis. There were also incorrect words used – tact instead of tack, breaking instead of braking. And also some layout aspects such line breaks or blank pages where there shouldn’t be or extra spaces, say between a speech mark and the first word spoken. Small, yes, but these jumped out and undermined the story.
I also found a couple of paragraphs where the tense changed from past to present which threw me. Jobs for people that changed over the course of a page – Mourner’s assistant was a Personal Secretary, then a paragraph she’s later an Executive Assistant.
In other cases mangled sentences and then just plain odd ones like:
The beatings had left her with a fractured wrist, three split lips and a permanently damaged eye socket.
Three split lips?!
The biggest error for me was the repeat use of words. This is an aspect I really struggle with. It was very common for sentences (or successive ones) to have two or even three of the same words in them, for example:
I shouldn’t bottle it up. At least that’s what they tell me. But to be honest, bottling it up seems to do me just fine. Isn’t the problem that you then unbottle it and then empty that bottle Spark?
‘…a silent partner in most of these companies, the front man changing from company to company. Changing, that is, apart from two of the companies…’
‘And before I had a further chance to interject further…’
‘I was wearing the same jeans I had been wearing when I arrived.’
In one relatively short chapter (9.5 pages on my Kindle) I counted 57 uses of ‘you’ or its derivatives (mainly the former), like:
‘You by yourself are you?’
Guess what? I wasn’t properly reading the story as a result and my attention drifted.
It’s a pity as Scafell had the makings of a reasonable debut novel. The pace was good, the premise reasonable when it wasn’t over stretched and when it worked the story held my attention. But it could have been better. In particular Scafell would benefit from some hard editing. Ordinarily Scafell would have received three stars, but the litany of issues unfortunately pushed it down.
Many repeated words, some spelling mistakes and format errors.
Rating: ** Two Stars