Sunday, September 6, 2009


66. Revenge, by Hugh Holton

This book, a Detective Larry Cole mystery, is a posthumous publication, Holton having died in 2001. There is no indication that anyone has added to it, so I can only presume that Holton had completed it, or appeared to have completed it, before he died. I say "appeared to have completed it" because it reads like an early draft that needs work, a lot of work.

The plot revolves around a young woman, Morgana Devoe, whose guardian was murdered when she was thirteen, and who is intent on revenge. She arrives in Chicago intending to kill the murderer, and becomes involved with Cole's son, Larry, Jr. (known as Butch), who is a police cadet. It turns out that she is actually the daughter of Margo and Neil DeWitt, married serial killers who were Cole's nemeses, but who are now dead. Their multi-billion dollar holdings are now being administered by a very nasty piece of work, lawyer Franklin Butler, and his assistant, Susanne York, who is also out for revenge on a variety of people.

Revenge fails on many levels. While Holton's writing was never the best, his mysteries could generally succeed in the plotting. But the prose in this book is so stilted and repetitious that the best of plots could not survive it, and this is not the best of plots. It's all over the place, wildly incoherent, and he leaves a lot of loose ends. The ending is over the top, even for Holton, and includes a bit of graphic sex, something that I do not recall from his other books (though, admittedly, it's been quite a while since I read one) and which is, therefore, a bit jarring.

The absence of editing is evident, not only in typos, but in such things as the misuse of words ("implicated", where "implied" is clearly what was meant), wrong names being used, and what the film world calls "continuity". Morgana lives in what is described in the space of two pages as a "town house", then a "penthouse", then a "townhouse" again. In one place, her home is on North Sheridan Road, then on Lake Shore Drive. (The book is set in Chicago, and these are real streets that do not intersect.)

Because the book is set is a specific, real, location, at a specific time, details can and should be verified. As a lawyer, I'm particularly annoyed at the many errors in law and legal procedure, with which, as a long-time Chicago police officer, Holton should have been conversant. He should have known that no trial court judge could allow cameras in a courtroom, as that's a violation of Illinois Supreme Court Rules. He should have known that motions to suppress statements are heard pre-trial by a judge, not as part of a jury trial. While occasionally one must allow an author literary license so that he can improve the story or move it along, the errors in this book do neither.

The book is copyrighted by Holton's daughter, and I appreciate that she probably wanted her father's last work published, but it needed considerable editing and revision before being in publishable form.

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