Originally posted February 5, 2006 at 20:41.
18 Seconds by George Shuman
This book is one of the few that I'll end up reviewing that haven't been released yet. I got to read it by virtue of the advanced reader's edition that arrived at the bookstore. Since the point is for me to read it and try to sell it to people if I liked it, I decided to go ahead and review it here.
To get one thing out of the way: I was annoyed that the "heroine" was beautiful. Drop-dead-everybody-talks-about-her-for-an-hour beautiful. Sure, her life is horrible and tragic and yadda yadda, but I really was sick and tired of hearing how pretty she is, and how it doesn't fit that she's pretty and blind.
Um, since when?
That little snit out of the way, since it doesn't matter at all really, the character is interesting. Turns out, through some quirk that's never explained (thankfully, explaining things makes them sometimes boring) Sherry can see into the last 18 seconds of a person's life when she touches their corpse. She can only get images from corpses, and only the residual flashes in the short-term memory.
While Sherry is doing her best to solve crime, new Leiutenant Kelly Lynch-O'Shaughnessy is trying to solve the dissapearances of two young women in her little summer-escape town. The book uses the technique where the reader knows exactly who the killer is, and at least a few of his methods. This definetly works well, and makes the mystery that much more intriguing.
What doesn't help, despite a review to the contrary on Amazon.com is the personal lives of the characters. I can see that Shuman is trying to keep us from falling too far into the Serial Killer's mind (which is an extremly scary place) but you can tell his hand isn't well practiced at this kind of writing. The strengths are in the policework, the attitudes, and the killer himself. The biggest weakness is Sherry's unrequited love, which comes off too false.
Shuman is a retired police officer, and you can get that feeling by reading. But trying to write a lonely woman's feelings about why she wants to find love, it falls into trite emotions that just don't capture the moment at all.
Lynch-O'Shaughnessy (whose name is far too long and is thankfully referred to as Leiu most of the time) has a similar turbulance in her personal life, and in the end it comes off a lot better than Sherry's, but only by comparison. If it was the only personal story in the book, I wouldn't have liked it either. I'm not sure what would have made those sections better, but they do drag it down a bit.
But when it comes down to the meat of the novel, the serial killer, his crimes, the policework used to catch him, 18 seconds does a wonderful job. There's no magic-like CSI actions here, but real procedure. The best thing is that it takes longer than a half hour for DNA evidence to come through. Shuman knows procedure and he puts it on the page faithfully.
The bad guy is very bad, and very well written. The loose ends get tied up a little neatly, but in the end everything comes together as a mystery novel should. The only reason I can't give it a whole-hearted reccomendation is the limping personal stories. Parts could also be hard to take for people who don't like violence, but then why would you be reading about a serial killer if you don't like violence?