Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: THE MAGPIES

Title: The Magpies
Author: Mark Edwards
Publisher: Createspace
Pages: 400
GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The Magpies is a psychological thriller that offers the reader no respite, as it forces us to live the horror of living next door to the Neighbours from Hell.

Jamie and Kirsty are a young, unmarried couple who move into what appears to be their dream flat. They are both optimistic about their lives and their future together. For a while, all is well.

Neighbours Brian and Linda, Chris and Lucy, and Mary are all friendly, at the beginning. And then things begin to unravel. Packages they haven’t ordered begin to get delivered. Somebody leaves dead rats at their doorstep. They receive mail criticizing the “noisy sex” they keep having.

The couple, with their respective best friends Paul and Heather who are now dating, are invited by Chris and Lucy to a go-karting event. There Paul has a major accident, loses consciousness and slips into a coma soon after.

After this, things get even worse for Jamie and Kirsty. Chris and Lucy begin to behave more and more strangely. For the most part, the Newtons’ efforts at troubling Jamie and Kirsty are more annoying than dangerous. But then the intensity deepens and even I began to feel uncomfortable. I became more interested in learning what happened next. It was all very bizarre and yet completely within the realm of possibility.

The fear psychosis deepens as the Newtons manage to taint the food that Jamie and Kirsty have ordered at a local restaurant, causing both to suffer a severe bout of food poisoning. They also break into their flat to use their computer to send out a deadly virus, nearly causing Jamie to lose his job.

As the attacks intensity, Jamie and Kirsty begin to disagree on the best thing to do under the circumstances. Kirsty prefers to sell, even at a loss, and move, while Jamie’s instinct leads him to fight to save his territory. The disagreement drives a wedge between the couple, while Jamie’s increasing obsession with getting back at the Newtons causes his steady mental decline.

Initially, I couldn’t really identify or sympathise with the lead characters. The descriptions of the “athletic sex” that they kept having were long, detailed and disgustingly offputting, and served to render them even more unappealing in my eyes. I wish no one had told this author about the “Show, don’t tell,” principle in writing. There’s only so much detail you can read about sex before you lose interest and want to skip paragraphs.

If anything, at the beginning, I found Paul vastly more interesting as a character. Jamie and Kirsty just weren’t that interesting. It was only after Paul’s accident that Jamie’s character became more real. His sadness at his friend’s condition and his distress at the mental torture being inflicted upon him becomes more evident.

I liked the Prologue. It suggested tension, a difficulty that was impossible to solve. It served to reel me into the story. I also enjoyed the dialogue in the book. It was real and believable.

The author deserves credit for the manner in which he has established the London setting, from the very British English that was used to the references to the Indian foods, the poppadoms, samosas etc. (By the way, the poppadoms were born papads.).

For a self published work, the writing is very good. When speaking of Paul in a coma, the author writes, Paul’s body was still functioning – growing, aging, shedding, replenishing; all the things that bodies do. These things were a tangible reminder that Paul was still with them.

Of course, there are some errors that a good editor would have been able to catch. Paul is described as disorientated. At one point, Mike, Jamie’s colleague, was referred to as Chris – mixing up your characters like that is a big no-no. But overall, the prose is bereft of the grammatical errors and spelling mistakes that one associates with vanity publishing.

Also, the author should have avoided the use of the past participle. I feel that the past participle, unless it is used in the right manner, or when overused, distances the reader from the action and from the characters.

If you’re wondering what a title like The Magpies has to do with horrible neighbours, know that I wondered about that too. Until I reached the end of the book, and came upon the author’s note which informed me that magpies are unpleasant birds who destroy the nests of other birds. If only this symbolism had been introduced into the story, it would have heightened the effect of the book greatly.

The pace of the book is rather slow, at least at the beginning. Tighter editing would have reduced the book size and improved the pace. It is only around Chapter 12 that the pace begins to slowly pick up. In time, it gets more and more intense until you find yourself one with Jamie, sharing his frustration and living his decline.

The ending took me by surprise. I would have liked to see the culprits punished. Of course, it was a happy ending, just not as happy as I would have liked it to be.

Mostly I experienced feelings of relief that the nightmare was over for Jamie, and for me too. I sure hope none of us ever meet the likes of Chris and Lucy.

I must give credit to the author for creating such crazily malevolent negative characters. 

So calm and friendly on the outside, and yet so devious and evil.

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