Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Old Dam / R.J. Smythe

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Suspense/Literary fiction

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

Kindle US:
YES UK: YES Nook: NO Smashwords: NO Paper: NO
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store


This is R.J. Smythe’s first novel. He says his primary goal as an author is to entertain the reader.


Three young adults find a cache of money at a remote swimming hole and think it is the answer to their dreams. Instead, their lives start spiraling out of control, with repercussions on top of repercussions.


This is a first for me. I’ve never rated a book this low that I liked this much. In fact, I don’t think I’ve rated a book this low where I didn’t wish I could have the time that I spent reading it back, yet I don’t regret having read The Old Dam. I’ll try to explain.

We’ll start with the positive. The Old Dam is a coming-of-age story with a lot of suspense and parts that border on horror. The narrator, C.J., is a sympathetic character, who seems like a good kid who finds himself in a difficult situation. Where the story is going, how it will resolve, and even what you view as a satisfactory ending, are constantly changing as the full tale unwinds. There are morality lessons and object lessons on life priorities along with a darn good story.

All of this is good. However, the author has two writing tics that happen constantly and, over time, become an irritant. I’ll explain each with examples.

The first is a tendency to do what I’ll describe as stuttering. The book is a narration from C.J. interspersed with dialogue from the other characters. This tic happens in both dialogue, where it might sometimes make sense, and in narration, where I don’t think it belongs. An example in narration is when C.J. tells us, “Yesterday’s episode with Joe, the shotgun, and my forehead . . . that’d been downright, downright . . . I couldn’t think of a word that described it” or “As for Amy, well . . . well . . . . I’d give her a call.”

The second issue is repetition. Smythe states the same information in slightly different words, one sentence right after the other. It reached the point where I wanted to keep saying, “yeah, I got it the first time.” A few examples are:

He seemed really angry. He seemed quite upset.

Oh, criminy. How many times did we have to go through this little ritual? How many times did we have to go through this little routine?

“It’s kind of a little trophy,” he explained. “Kind of a little souvenir.”

Either one of these, in moderation, could actually be a good technique for implying something about a particular character at that point in the story. For example, it might show nervousness or that he is having a hard time articulating something. But overuse of this technique causes a loss of effectiveness, especially when used in both narration and dialogue.

These tics occur often enough that, I think, most people will find them grating, which is the reason I ranked the book the way I did. However, if you don’t think they’d bother you, then the story is worth taking the time to read.


The book description warns about the following: Adult language, adult themes, sexual situations, gratuitous nudity, and violence. That covers all the bases although most of these are relatively mild.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ** Two stars


R. J. Smythe said...

Thank you very much for reviewing my book. Of course I wish it might have been rated higher but I am delighted there were positive aspects about the story that you found interesting and/or entertaining. As for the negatives you mention, the dialog tics and such, I never really thought about them in that light, and you've given me food for thought. I appreciate your candor and the helpful criticism--I will put it to good use in my future writing.

Again, my heartfelt thanks for taking the time to read the book.


Donna Fasano said...

This is the most glowing 2-star review I've ever read. I'm intrigued. I'm going to download a sample of this book and check it out.