Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Review: The Serial Box

Title: The Serial Bok
Author: R. W. Hogan
Genre: Science fiction
Price: $17.99
Publisher: Lulu
ISBN: 978-0-557-00777-6
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Mr. R. W. Hogan requested that I review his first novel, The Serial Box. The back-cover material, and for that matter the front cover, a picture of a blood-soaked gun on a map, scream “crime novel,” but this work is more accurately science fiction.

The book opens with a prologue describing a cold-blooded murder in Iowa, taking place on June 3, 2006. The same day in Chicago, lawyer Denny Harcourt is burying his only son, dead of leukemia at the age of seven. It takes the author several chapters to link these threads, which he does in the person of Christian Quincy. You see, Chris has come into possession of technology from the future, including a voice-controlled PDA. The device and other technology convinces Quincy that he needs to kill various serial killers before they strike.

Now, in a conventional telling of this story, the discovery of the future technology would be chapter 1, but Hogan, the author, has a stroke of genius and tells his story from the point of view of lawyer Harcourt. Quincy gets caught, of course, and requests Harcourt by name as his defense attorney. At first Harcourt thinks Quincy is a garden-variety nut, but he slowly comes to believe that his client isn’t mad at all, but a true hero.

Unfortunately, I found that The Serial Box has a lot of flaws which get in the way of the story. First, it lacks a sense of place. Hogan mailed me a copy of the book from Windsor, Canada, but the book is set in Chicago. I live in Chicago, and kept catching Hogan in glaring local errors. For example, the Cook County Criminal Court building and the County jail are at 26th and California. I know this because every newscaster in town refers to the building by that address. You will not find either the address or the name “Cook County” referenced in The Serial Box.

Downtown Chicago is not called “downtown,” it’s called “the Loop” because of the elevated trains that run around it. One of the few addresses mentioned, 117 S. Lincoln, “in an old and rundown part of downtown” doesn’t exist, and if it did, it probably wouldn’t be a rooming house for a serial killer. (One block south of Madison anywhere near downtown would be yuppie heaven.) The real shame here is that there’s no particular reason to set the story in Chicago. All the events depicted could just as easily happened in Canada or Detroit.

My second set of issues with The Serial Box was in the mechanics of the storytelling. Much of the story was told in first person by Denny Harcourt, which was okay. But, where it was not Harcourt speaking, there was a very strong narrative voice, opinionated, and which interfered with the flow of the story. Were I looking at a draft, I would suggest a quick fix would be redoing the story as a memoir by Harcourt. Also, Hogan has a tendency to let his characters talk in multi-paragraph speeches with no quotation marks or other signifiers that it’s dialog.

There are several stock characters in the book, pulled from Central Casting. We have a brilliant scientist with a comely daughter, a driven FBI agent, and an exceptionally lovely young female defense attorney. These characters aren’t very compelling or interesting, and several of them could frankly go away without hurting the story.

Overall, The Serial Box reminds me of a 1950’s science fiction B movie. That’s not to say there aren’t flashes of brilliance (there were some good B movies of that era) but as a whole the book is not terribly compelling.


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