Monday, February 24, 2014

Review Time - The Day the Tigers Broke Free

Lately I've accepted quite a few books to review, so I'm breaking out of my constructed mold and will post a review on a Monday.

A Monday you say?  Yes - normally I'm a Garfield when it comes to Mondays, but since I actually have time in my evening tonight and want to make some headway on my ever growing list, I'm gonna get cracking.  So now that that is out of the way, let's get to my thoughts on Ken Ping's novel The Day the Tigers Broke Free.

Book Blurb:
In a small town, a seventeen-year-old Chinese boy is found dead.  An obvious suicide, say the police, and the family is left to grieve.  Enter Charlie Kee, a relative and investigative reporter in from New York for the funeral.  There are suspicious circumstances about the death and his questions stir up a lot of hate between him and the police chief, and with the local boys.  But a skilled and relentless investigator, he picks up on the clues.  And he is a man with a past that simmers hot and cold in his mind.  What he uncovers stokes the fire of those emotions and throws him headlong into a tumultuous clash with hatred, with himself, and with Ann, a beautiful psychologist, who is journeying through emotions of her own.

This novel is a blend of action and drama centering around the investigation of a crime while exploring the issues of life and death, racism, the human condition. Charlie, with his cold exterior, is himself volatile like his enemies, and it is a thin line that divides them, one that only God might sort out as they come to an explosive climax.

My Review:
New York investigative reporter, Charlie Kee, returns to his family's Texas roots for the funeral of his seventeen-year-old cousin.  It's been ruled a suicide, but Charlie's investigative instincts won't rest.  Review of the autopsy and interviews with the police chief and other potential witnesses to that night reveal inconsistencies that would never pass muster in the city.  But small-town secrets and prejudices have deep roots growing beneath the surface.

The premise of this novel intrigued me.  It had the elements of heartache, loss, and deep-seated emotions that offered the potential to stir my own.

However, the execution hit all of my buttons and left me feeling quite frustrated.  Point-of-view was all over the place - one paragraph I noticed switched POV three times - and so many random and inconsequential characters took POV center stage that before I even finished a third of the novel I wanted to stop reading.

The POV problems also affected how I saw the characters.  Character reactions swung so sharply at times nearly every single character almost seemed bipolar.  Seemed waaay over the top, which made them feel more like caricatures of the worst kinds of humanity.

Too much telling instead of showing dragged the pacing down, not to mention the numerous side stories that had absolutely nothing to do with the main story arc.  We had Ann and Paul, Lisa and her mother with Lisa's impending wedding, and countless other situations that made me keep going HUH?  The only thing Ann really had to do with the story was that she served as a counselor at the school.  I could understand all of that, but I didn't need to see her strip down in a public pond while she was being seduced by her ex-boyfriend.  If all of these side stories were removed, this would really help tighten the novel, thereby increasing the pacing drastically and keeping to the main story arc of Charlie trying to discern what happened to his cousin.  

It would also take an over-long book and cut it nearly in half - in my opinion a necessary sacrifice.

In the end, the characters for whom I was supposed to feel some empathy left me with a bitter taste in my mouth because they ended up behaving in the most despicable ways and committing acts even the bad guys might not - Charlie and his uncle included.  Their atrocious acts of vengeance (even after discovering the truth) made whatever minute sympathies I felt for the childhood flashbacks obsolete.  The protagonists turned into the antagonists.

It pains me, but I can give The Day the Tigers Broke Free only one and a half stars - the half star being for the promising premise.

Author Bio:
Ken Christopher Ping first started writing short stories, although unpublished, prior to writing his first novel, The Day The Tigers Broke Free.  Among his careers, he has been a graphic artist, as well as having served three years in the army.

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