Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Body of Evidence Series by Christopher Golden #1-3


I ended up picking up Body Bags, the first book in this series, because I had insomnia and for some reason it was on my mom's bookshelf in the guest room at home. I knew Christopher Golden because of his work with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, and so it seemed worth a shot.

The series focuses on Jenna Blake, a college freshman who wanted to become a doctor but is squeamish around blood. Her dad convinces her to take on a job with the medical examiner and she finds her niche. She also, naturally, finds an excessive amount of conspiracies and danger. Because if she didn't, what would the books be about?

The first book was originally released in 1999, well before I started reading them. And while it doesn't seem the series was exactly finished, there are no new books being published in it. I was actually quite surprised that the books started before CSI began airing (it began in fall of 2000, over a year later) because it has a lot of the same ideas, and a lot of the same flaws. In fact, I could sum up this review simply by saying that if you like CSI and young adult books, you should probably give the series a shot.

But I'd feel like I need to warn you that if you have any problems with the logic or science of CSI, the you probably should stay away. I give the tv show a pass because I enjoy the characters and the acting is quite good, but I can't watch the spin-off series because I wasn't already invested before they started to go off the rails with their concept of reality. Body of Evidence suffers the same kind of problems. I know a little too much about forensics and police work to believe half of what happens, because even though Golden gets a lot right, he also is perfectly happy to jettison believability in favor of drama and plot.

Don't get me wrong, this is how a writer probably should be. But at the same time, the characters really weren't grabbing me enough to make me willing to suspend my disbelief that much. Jenna has the same exact crisis of conscience in every book, just with slightly different flavors. And don't get me started on the love interests, because the romance in this book is so bad that I wish it didn't exist. Seriously, we could have had a young adult series where the heroine doesn't really care about guys and might date sometimes if she meets somebody but it's not really a big part of the story. Instead, we just keep circling around her crush on a guy fifteen years older than her (is it fifteen? I've repressed the details because it got so boring and slightly gross).

Of the three books, Thief of Hearts is the best because Golden takes the most chances and goes probably as far as he can with the characters. It has the feel of a finale, rather than just being the second book in the series, and that actually makes Soul Survivor suffer greatly by comparison. The characters mostly slip back into where they were before, and they shouldn't. The events of Soul Survivor should have forever changed them, and the way that it haunts them feels inauthentic rather than deeply moving.

The other problem I have is that the author is constantly being FAR too detailed in his descriptions for my taste, almost always about inconsequential details. It feels like it's written only for people who live in Boston so they can say, "I know that place! I know where that is! I've heard of that store! I listen to that radio station!" To people outside of Boston, they're just extra nonsense words, and when they don't actually contribute to the plot (which is most of the time) then it just makes reading the book a little more difficult than it should be. But maybe I'm spoiled because in screenwriting, you don't even mention a character's hair color unless you have to. Describing more than the basics about a location is a huge no-no, and so I'm always going to like sparse over detail unless that detail actually means something.

In the end, this sounds like I hate the books completely, but I do have the fourth one and I plan to read it. I would say anybody who likes this kind of story should definitely check out Body Bags and Thief of Hearts, they're pretty strong (if you ignore the romantic tension). But if you find yourself struggling through Soul Survivor, I don't think I can say it's worth finishing unless you're the type of person who always finishes books. Maybe the fourth book will change my mind.

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