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Classmate Murders: An e-book Review

Updated on April 25, 2013

Writing reviews for books can be tough. Books are not like movies or video games, those are visual mediums and the amount of subjectivity in things you can actually see is tempered, to a degree. To further illustrate what I mean, let's take a look at a film like 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film many hail as Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece. Now, some of you may already take me to task for lumping a film like 2001 in with a review of a piece of crap like Classmate Murders, but hear me out for a second. The comparison is not nearly as insane as it sounds, I promise.

So let's take 2001. 2001 is an epic film whose story takes you from the dawn of man to the far-flung future of...2001 (admittedly, that was pretty far out in the future back in 1968). It deals with black monoliths of alien origin and explores an alternate understanding of evolution, set against the backdrop of a rotating space station and a rogue artificial intelligence. A lot of people like this movie. I'm not one of them. I think the film has some amazing moments ("I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."), I think the concepts explored are incredibly thought-provoking, the special effects are breath-taking, the score verges on amazing; I think all of these things and I still do not like 2001. I think Kubrick took the top-notch tools he had in his toolbox (everything in the gushing sentence above) but he made a movie that was too long, too pretentious, and ultimately too boring to sit through. I've seen it twice in my life and during one of those viewings I actually fell asleep. I won't sit through it a third time.

Now, when it comes to a visual medium like film, you can argue whether the movie itself is any good (and when it comes down to it, every review is pretty much an argument either for or against something), but a lot of the actual argument has already been settled. Looking at 2001, you cannot argue that it wasn't ground-breaking, that the cinematography isn't beautiful, that "Thus Spake Zarathustra" isn't an awesome composition, these things are all laid out for you so long as you keep your eyes open and your ears unplugged.

Books are different, though. Because a book is just printed words on a page, a great deal of the experience comes from within yourself. You read the words on the page and you conjure up an image in your mind to help you understand what is happening in the story. You may be given some clues to help you along with the vital data of the book, but clues are not evidence. The main character in Classmate Murders is in his 60's; just by reading that sentence right there, you've already got a picture in your mind about what the main character looks like. Because we're talking about our own individual minds, however, everything is going to be relative. Even with that clue, that Jim Richards is a male in his 60's, the person you are thinking up is not the person I am thinking up. One of the most amusing things my father has ever told me is that, prior to the live-action Lord of the Rings trilogy, he always pictured Gollum as looking like Grover from Sesame Street. Peter Jackson and my father both read the same books, but one of them saw a scraggly-looking cave person and the other saw a Muppet. This is what the medium of books does to us, it gives us a starting point and then tells us to run with it.

All right, let's tie this all together. In a visual medium like film, you cannot argue whether or not Hal's eye was red or blue; it's very clearly red. In a book, everything you read is interpreted through your own filter and that colors our experiences in very different ways. You might find Classmate Murders, the first in a series of currently 26 (!!) books staring Jim Richards, a retiree who seemingly gets involved in a murder investigation every five minutes, a pleasant distraction, acceptable crap to help you get through a rainy day or help with your morning commute. You might find the story, about a group of cheerleaders being killed one by one by a figure from their past, to be a rollicking good time. You may be so wrapped up in this page-turner that you don't notice any of its grammatical issues. You may get to this books absolutely abrupt ending and be struck by a powerful desire to pick up the next book in the series. That may be what you take away from this book.

What I take away from this book, however, is that author Bob Moats is in desperate, desperate need of a good editor. It does seem that Mr. Moats did utilize an editor with the version of the book I read (the book was originally published in 2009 and the acknowledgements at the front of the book indicate that an editor was brought on to clean stuff up with this 2013 re-release) but the book still needs a thorough scrubbing. The grammar is all over the place here, and as a self-affirmed grammar snob, it was almost painful for me to get through this. Punctuation is missing in places. Run-on sentences come hard and heavy. Words are misused (misogyny does not mean what Bob Moats thinks it means). The wrong verb tense is used without abandon. I don't expect perfection in anything, I really don't; just the other day, while perusing another free e-book, I noticed a punctuation mistake. Although I pointed it out to my wife like the dork I am, I didn't dwell on it. The reason being? That was the first mistake I noticed and it was two-thirds of the way through this book. The mistakes in Classmate Murders are everywhere. I'm not even counting the parts of the book where a chapter will start in first-person, miraculously switch to third-person and describe stuff that the main character has no way of knowing (and, indeed, doesn't know) before switching back to first-person. That is a whole different kind of problem, there, and there are only so many battles I can fight.

The thing about it, though, is that the story here is not that bad. Yes, it is written atrociously, but the story is pretty competent. The eventual villain is telegraphed much too early, and the unnecessary squick factor introduced by an incestuous relationship is, well, squicky, but the murder mystery proceeds in a fashion that mostly makes sense. There's issues here, too, like a detective admitting to Richards that he can't expect him to stop playing private eye and then in the next chapter yelling at him for continuing to play private eye, but the investigation the characters conduct is plausible, and sometimes that is all I need in my murder mysteries. Give me something plausible and I can waste a day on you.

In the end, I'm spitting in the wind here. People love the Jim Richards character, as evidenced by the fact that there are 26 of these things. Most people are willing to overlook all the issues I had with the book. And, at the time of this writing, the first book in the series is free, which forgives a lot of stuff for the majority of people. For me, however, this book injured me in ways that few do, and even at the low-low price of nothing, I would not recommend you read Classmate Murders.

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