Wednesday, March 14, 2007

'North of Sunset' by Henry Baum

TITLE: North of Sunset
AUTHOR: Henry Baum
PRICE: $16.95
GENRE: Novel
ISBN: 978-1-4116-5656-7
POINT OF SALE: Lulu, Amazon

You can’t please everybody. Henry Baum’s third novel, North of Sunset, has received some rave reviews, notably from Girl On Demand, the 800 pound gorilla of the POD-review world. Unfortunately, I don’t share her taste in books. Although very professionally executed, I found both the characters and plot of North of Sunset to be uninteresting.

First, let’s discuss the plot. Baum starts off the book by introducing each of the main characters, and giving each of them a chapter of back-story. We meet Michael Sennet, an actor with a huge ego and seemingly on a mission to bed every woman in the world. Then Baum introduces us to Martin Goldfarb, a stereotypical self-loathing producer, who refers to his wife as “Jew-dy.” Chapter 3 introduces us to Curt Knudsen, introduced as the “Vanity Plate Killer,” who has murdered seven people solely because they drive cars with vanity license plates. The other major characters get similarly lengthy introductions. The end result of this is that we’re forty pages into the book before anything happens.

Once Baum starts the action, the plot seems to run along nicely for a while, and I started to enjoy North of Sunset. This proved to be a temporary thing. In my view, North of Sunset doesn’t so much end as fade to black. I found the ending unbelievable and unsatisfying.

Part of the reason the book’s ending is so unsatisfactory is Baum’s characters. I found Sennet both insufferably arrogant and not too bright. You don’t have to be an expert in banking to suspect that you can’t withdraw $4 million in cash over the teller window, for example. I also don’t feel that his character grew or changed in any way over the course of the book.

Knudsen, the serial killer, behaves illogically. First, his motivation for killing makes no sense. He’s a member of a vaguely Fundamentalist church, and goes on his killing spree when one of the church members is killed in an accident. Problem is, the accident was the church member’s fault, and Knudsen knows it! Also, Knudsen’s reaction to discovering that he has a copycat killer at large is unexpected to say the least. It feels more like a way to wrap up the book quickly then a realistic thing to do.

Most of the secondary characters are unbelievable, especially police detective Harry Stein. Consider the following excerpt, which is describing Detective Stein. “He was usually an investigator into white or black America, an America not his own. In the way that Curt Laemmle, Louis B. Mayer, the Warner Brothers, et al. had entered American life through entertainment, Stein had found his place through solving American crime.”

I’ve read and enjoyed quite a bit of literary fiction, from such writers as Annie Proulx and Jane Smiley. I think Baum is trying for their style of writing. I don’t think he quite hits the mark with this book.

RATING 5 / 10

Chris Gerrib is a resident of Villa Park, IL and Director of Technology for a Chicago-area bank. This is his first novel. He holds degrees from the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University and is president-elect of the Rotary Club of Darien, IL.


Henry Baum said...

What can I say, can't please everybody. One thing people seem to miss with this book is that it's satire, not straight realism. "Knudsen, the serial killer, behaves illogically." What serial killer behaves logically? Thanks for taking the time.

Anonymous said...

Henry, you're welcome. And you are correct - I did not read the book as satire. Sometimes the line between satire and reality is blurry.

Or sometimes folks are expecting something different. People who've panned my novel seem to be expecting either a YA book or a "Pirates of the Caribean" romp.