Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Troubled / Suzanne Leavitt

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Suspense/Thriller

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

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Suzanne Leavitt is a journalist and freelance writer. Since writing Troubled, she has written two other novels, a collection of short humorous stories, a book on preventative medicine, and a series of children’s books. She is the mother of four and the grandmother of five. For more, visit her blog.


A single father who works for the state Department of Human Services becomes concerned about the family situation of his son’s school friend and investigates. What he finds isn’t what he expected. As the two families become more involved, life becomes more complicated.


There’s a cliché about teachers I’ve often used, but with my own twist, “those who can, do, those who can’t, critique.” I don’t write fiction and have serious doubts whether I could with even a modicum of competency. No matter what my Mother might claim, I’m not much of a storyteller. That can make for a strange feeling when I talk at a very detailed level about why someone else’s writing doesn’t work. Fortunately, I have much more confidence in my ability as a reader.

At a high level, the story in Troubled has a lot of potential although not without some issues. Generally, the character development is good and fits the story. The two ten year-old boys, Joe and James are the characters that work best. Michelle, who is Joe’s mother, and Jack, the protagonist and James’ father, stretch credibility at times. The biggest issue I had with a character was Jack’s apparent issue with women. Jack would describe virtually every woman from his past with a list of their faults making it overly clear that he felt women couldn’t be trusted, yet he quickly overcame this with Michelle, too quick for the amount of buildup about that personality trait.

The main conflict in the story was fear of Joe’s father, a man with a history of crime and violence. Michelle felt she and Joe were in danger if he found them. For all the tension built up through the novel, when Joe’s father finally made an appearance the conflict resolved too quickly and easily.

Despite some concerns from a bird’s eye view, my major issuess with Troubled were in the devilish details. The dialog is clunky because it uses too many tags to identify the speaker and too often tries to tell the reader additional things they should be able to figure out in other ways. For example:

"Yeah, how could you forget a face like that?" says Jack jokingly. Mr. McGuire laughs and then …

I thought it was obvious who was talking and that he was jesting. In case of doubt, Mr. McGuire laughing makes it clear. Here is another example of the same kind of problem.

"I just have a lot of things to get done on Sunday…you know, for the coming week," was her answer and it appears that she is avoiding the question.

This kind of thing was pervasive. These aren’t examples of show, don’t tell (although there is plenty of that too). They are examples of showing and telling. The way she responded is enough to tell she is avoiding the question. Redundancy is good in some places. A novel isn’t one of them. Speaking of which, what about phrases like, “three days pass and the weekend finally comes” or “on the drive home across town”? Aren’t these telling us the same thing twice?

While Troubled is a story with potential, it fell short in the execution.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of typos and wrong word usage (they’re, their, there for example). Although there are not many places with italics, most of those places are either italicized for no good reason or incorrectly. For example, the title of the video game Need for Speed has italics for only part of the name.

Rating: ** Two stars

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