Sci-fi mystery review: ‘Gingerbread Man’ by Lee Strauss

July 3, 2017 Review 0

This one took me by surprise. Because I’d downloaded it for free some time back (more than a year ago, in fact), I had no idea why I’d been attracted to it or even what sort of book it was. I simply opened it and began to read, and at first it seemed like fairly standard fare: a college campus, some geeky students doing typical geeky student things, a rape, a murder, bla bla. And then things veered sharply off in a very different direction and I got interested.

It’s not surprising I was confused. The full title is “Gingerbread Man: A Marlow and Sage Mystery Thriller (A Nursery Rhyme Suspense Book 1)”, and the Amazon categories are the expected mystery and thriller variants. But buried in the book’s description is the truth: this is Science Fiction Mystery Romantic Suspense, and it uses the conceit of alternate (or parallel) worlds to drive the plot.

Marlow is the headline geeky student, who befriends fellow student Teagan online. But when they set up a date to meet up, both claim that the other never showed up. And when Marlow bumps into Teagan on campus, she claims not to recognise him. Now this is nicely intriguing stuff, but when there’s a rape, then a murder, and then Teagan disappears, Marlow sets out to find her, and that’s when things get really interesting, and the alternate world business really kicks off.

The problem with alternate worlds is twofold. Firstly, each time there’s a jump, there’s a new setting and new characters to get to know, and although the characters are technically the same, there are enough changes in their backgrounds and upbringing to make them feel very different. The differences are nicely done here, but it still feels like starting all over again. It’s disjointed, jumping directly from an exciting part in a now-familiar setting, and suddenly we’re somewhere else altogether.

The second problem is that the alternate worlds are not always equally interesting. The third world (which it would be spoilerish to describe) is quite interesting, but by that point I just wanted to get back to the action and resolve the Teagan crisis, so any time elsewhere felt like treading water.

There were aspects of the book that I enjoyed very much. The early chapters, where Marlow and Teagan were communicating fine online, but some odd things were happening (like the photos that wouldn’t transmit, and the missed date at the coffee shop), were nicely intriguing, and drew me in beautifully. Once it became obvious what was happening, I lost interest slightly. The sciencey bits were a little clunky, and, as mentioned, not all the alternate worlds were equally interesting.

The characters – well, none of them really grabbed me. I appreciate that the romantic pairing for Marlow is Sage (it’s in the title, for goodness sake), but it seemed to me that he spent almost as much time thinking about and worrying about Teagan. The minor characters never really jumped off the page for me.

And here’s a really trivial detail that tripped me up a lot — the writing style is rather pedestrian. There’s a lot of ‘I did…’ and ‘I went…’ and ‘I ran…’, one after the other, and it got distracting. I really wanted to get in there and reword a few sentences, just for variety. Now, this is partly me being an author myself, so I notice the rhythms of the writing more than someone who’s reading solely for fun, and partly because I’m a nitpicky so-and-so, but it got between me and the story a lot, so I mention it. Ninety nine percent of the population wouldn’t be bothered by it, I’m sure.

I enjoyed this quite a lot, even though it wasn’t what I was expecting. The world-jumping was easy to follow (thank you, author!), the story was eminently readable and the early mysteries were intriguing. However none of the characters stood out, and the pedestrian writing style keep it to three stars for me, but I recommend it as a good read for anyone looking for a not-too-complex sci-fi themed mystery.

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