Reviewed by: Keith Nixon
Genre: Crime / Thriller
Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words
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I couldn’t find a bio on the author. However you can learn more about the book, its setting and themes at this website.
John McDaid’s first day in CID and he steps straight into the middle of a murder case. A young man has been beaten to death. McDaid and his colleagues quickly catch the offenders, but they get off on a technicality. And so begins a career long case for McDaid, from the late 70’s through to the 00’s when he finally learns all the answers to what really happened that fateful night.
I really wanted to like this story, it’s exactly the sort I tend to reach for (as BigAl said, “It screamed Keith Nixon”). Unfortunately it didn’t quite match up to expectations, but it did have merit.
As the description outlines, the plot is the reminiscences of a now retired policeman as he looks back over a case which stretched back over his career. And the author does manage this aspect well. McDaid’s voice is that of an old man and is written as a reflection. Jones also deals satisfactorily with the resultant large time gaps in the narrative – in some cases years between events – and builds a warm relationship between McDaid and Francis Hare, the father of the murdered young man, that the rest of the narrative hangs off. The segments where McDaid is embroiled in a crime feels convincing.
However, the timeframe and approach in themselves create issues. There were long stretches where McDaid undertook two pastimes with Hare – cabinet making and playing football in a local team together. The former is in particular highly detailed and the construction of a piece can take page upon page. Both bring McDaid close to Hare, so it’s worth doing, but the word count to do so is far too high - in these sections I was seriously considering giving The Cabinetmaker two stars because it switched me off. The narrative wasn’t being driven along sufficiently and it floundered.
The quality of Jones’ writing veered between unpractised and excellent. Here’s an example of the latter:
Barlinnie prison is one of these places that should have the effect of discouraging criminals from their profession – the grey imposing exterior is matched inside by a cold drabness that no amount of modernization and bright paint can cover up.
I really enjoyed that paragraph. But the narrative is peppered with basic errors in punctuation, repeated words and an over use of names that undermines the enjoyment of The Cabinetmaker.
In terms of punctuation it would be rare to go a page without seeing something. Whether it was a comma the wrong side of a speech mark, speech marks on lines that weren’t dialogue or missing full stops, incorrect capitalization (e.g. Rats) and speech marks that varied between ‘ and “. A desire to underline words to emphasize them also crept in during the second half of the story.
Repeating words is quite common in self-published works. It’s something that drives me to distraction because it’s a basic error that simply isn’t necessary. Heavy use of names is less seen, but I think the author suffered from a need to tell rather than show – lots of words used to point out how he or the character was feeling also crept in. Sometimes the wrong surname was used – O’Hare instead of Hare, but I didn’t find a spelling mistake.
Here are some examples:
“That had been my first day. Naively I had thought that every day would be the same, but here we were a day later…”
“I enjoyed chatting with you yesterday, you are a nice guy, aren’t you?”
A couple of other issues – the book starts in the 1970’s and, other than a Life On Mars angle (for UK readers, yes one of the characters does drive a Capri) and runs through to the 00’s, however I got no sense of the time and very little of place. It didn’t help that characters would drop in and out of Scottish dialect, often across a single page. A language guide accompanies the novel, but I didn’t need it until the very end.
All of that being said, on balance I did enjoy the story. It kept me going through to the end which, given the above, says quite a lot. If the author wielded a knife on some of the less valuable segments and employed an editor this could be a pretty decent novel deserving of a higher rating.
Plenty of swearing, with the strongest of words used often.
Lots and lots of them, see above.
Rating: *** Three Stars