Defying Death In Hagerstown
By John Paul Carinci
Down-and-out reporter Louis Gerhani has one last shot at keeping his job: Write a story about 110 year old Lolita Croome from Hagerstown, Maryland. Even before he meets Ms. Croome, Gerhani discovers a series of unsolved murders from the early 1920s. His once boring story now has some meat…if he can stay alive long enough to write it. Once he starts asking questions, he runs up against forces determined to keep those questions unanswered.
Good plot. There’s enough of a story here to make a story, if you know what I mean. Unfortunately, the author doesn’t use it to the best advantage. I wasn’t sure what to make of this as I worked my way through it. A little mystery with an attempt at metaphysical with dreams providing clues and romantic forecasts. Some philosophical/theological/Christian themes. Themes here and there that didn’t coalesce.
Louis Gerhani: 31, Washington Gazette reporter, drinks a lot of alcohol, drives a ’10 Chevy Malibu, father dead, has a sister, brown eyes
Lolita Croome: 110 years old, worked as a teacher’s assistant, wears glasses, slightly overweight
Jennifer Croome: 83, Lolita’s daughter, married, grey hair, slim
Harold Glavin: Gazette editor, been in the newspaper biz for almost fifty years, deep voice, smokes cigars, thrice divorced
Carl: bartender, 55, 6’4”, 250 lbs, father-dead-was an alcoholic, has siblings, married with five children
Fred: barber, almost fifty, has cancer and COPD
Joel S. Krolm: police Captain, 6’3”, 280 lbs, middle 40s, long hair, round face
Josephine Cleary: 80, uses a cane, slim, widow, works at a nursing home
Some interesting and unique last names for many characters.
Gerhani was all over the map, though. At first he comes across as a noir type guy: his woman left him, his boss wants to fire him, he drinks. He’s cynical. Then he gets inspiration from a bartender and a barber. At one point he waxes philosophical and is shown heartbroken over the murders. I just couldn’t get a grasp on him.
Other characters just don’t seem believable. A doctor would not call his patient by his first name upon first meeting him. The cops are very brash with Gerhani for no apparent reason and no plausible explanation. In fact, they seem more concerned with Gerhani leaving town than the fact someone is after him. Glavin is over the top and very insulting.
Other characters are minor but have too much description. I expected them to stick around longer but within a page or two, they’re gone. No need to repeat a description of a character once given.
An egregious error in dialogue: She stood up and headed quickly back to the kitchen, calling loudly over her shoulder, “Neither of the two men was ever charged,” she yelled a little loudly as she was running back to the kitchen.
No, no, no. Two tag lines are wrong and the use of the word loudly twice is definitely wrong. And this double tag line is seen more than once.
Repetition in action on dialogue. One person ‘said with a big smile’ twice in one conversation.
Problems with repetitious words within dialogue. “Body bag” & “Hammerhead” used by multiple characters.
Some of the dialogue very weak, B-movie. Too many adverbs in tag lines. ‘Loudly’ was overused.
First person from Gerhani’s POV.
The writing could have been a lot tighter. Some extra words here and there that could have been dropped. There is a lot of repetition of words or series of words. Sometimes authors will repeat a word in the same paragraph or succeeding paragraphs. Here there is repetition that is spread out but still too close and too often noted. ‘110 year old woman’, ‘historic murders’. Many others. In one instance the main character said something ‘not caring that he disliked me’ but the author used that phrase twice in the same dialogue. One word I always catch because I monitor in my own writing is the vague sounding ‘few’. The constant repetition was enough to be irritating when I was trying to have a smooth read.
I understand how cities can feel small-townish, but when you have a population of almost 40,000 that’s not small anymore. Maybe it’s just me but I kept thinking about a town near where I was raised, Burlington, Iowa. Nobody could claim minimal crime and a homey Mayberry feel to it as Hagerstown is presented. It may be a minor point but it did strike a chord with me.
Long set up before some action starts, almost a fifth of the book and Gerhani doesn’t meet Lolita (supposedly the second main character) until about 35% of the way in. Then she doesn’t seem to add anything substantive to the mystery other than dreams. Gerhani spends too long lamenting his failed relationship at the beginning. Plus he often reminds the reader how precarious his job is. (As do other characters.) However, attacks against Gerhani are too quickly connected, without a good explanation, to the 1923 murders. Gerhani hadn’t even narrowed down the focus of the investigation when a bad guy appears and boom! it’s supposed to be related to the murders? How? Why so fast? Plus, there is a lot of extraneous material and that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere. Questions that aren’t answered: How did a character know something was wrong with Gerhani when she couldn’t see him? When did Gerhani find time to do all of his research on the town and Lolita? Why does Glavin and his secretary want an obsessive update of Gerhani and his movements when they obviously don’t care about him? Where does the bad guy obtain the poison he uses?
This was a struggle to read because I kept running into problems that ruined the enjoyment. This story stumbles and doesn’t really take off. The only redemption is that that I didn’t find misspelling, grammar, or capitalization errors. However, I think with the problems I still have to drop this from my original thought of yellow to: