One of the benefits of this kooky ebook thing is how it’s made it easier than ever for new authors to get their work out before the public. What was once a terrifying trip on roads filled with insane drivers, followed by navigating the madding crowds at the mall before arriving at your favorite bookstore outlet to look for and purchase a new book–hopefully they had it in stock if you didn’t call ahead–is now just a couple of clicks on a website. You can do the entire thing with one hand, even, like so many other fun activities.
The ease of getting books out there and the much more variable pricing–many new authors opt to discount their books well below what typical bestsellers go for as enticement–means the reader has a greater selection of choices than ever before.
All of this can be summed up as: sometimes I see a book by an author I’m unfamiliar with and the price is low enough that I am fine with taking the risk that the book will be a stinker.
The good news is that the eminently affordable The Gate at Lake Drive is not a stinker. The less-than-good-news is that author Shaun Meeks would have benefited from a sharper editor and another pass to strengthen recurring problems with the writing, primarily the use of unnecessary modifiers that serve to sap the strength from the prose. Told in the first person by monster hunter Dillon, the writing is often weakened by unneeded verbiage. I’m not saying adverbs are a prime evil as Stephen King would have you think, nor do I believe that every story needs to be written with a Hemingway-level obsession with being lean to the point of minimalist, but The Gate at Lake Drive is filled with equivocation, describing things as slightly this or somewhat that, giving the prose a mushy feel. Sometimes it’s better to just be direct and not worry that your writing will come off as spartan.
The Gate at Lake Drive is set to be the first of a series of books featuring monster hunter Dillon, who brands himself as a monster detective. His rationale is presented thusly: “And calling myself a monster detective beats the hell out of monster exterminator or buster or whatever else you want to call it. A detective seems slightly more serious in my opinion.” But he then adds “I called my site Monster Dick, knowing that eventually people will run a search on it and then BOOM, there I am in front of you.” The contradiction here–wanting to appear “serious” then using the terrible pun of “monster dick” to lure in potential customers (do people seeking large male members online often have monster problems?) feels less like a character quirk and more something the author thought was funny and simply determined to make work.
Now, with this pun being so prominent, I expected the story to be presented in a light, funny manner. And it is, sort of. The tone is light, with Dillon making regular sarcastic asides, but the humor never feels fully committed to. And that may be my biggest issue with the book. On the one hand, Dillon is a veritable dervish with his daggers and magical demon-fighting equipment, slicing and dicing and dispatching monsters with ease, yet he is also a paunchy virgin who somehow attracts a burlesque performer and instantly they fall for each other because who knows why? All of this is great material for an absurd, over-the-top story, but it never really takes off and the main reason is the way the character of Dillon tells the story. He is a cipher (there’s a twist) but also kind of bland. Meeks doesn’t exploit the the conflict between his bad ass monster-fighting and his allegedly awkward way around women. Instead, there’s an instant romance, sex (mercifully not described) and none of it connects because there’s no work done to connect it. It just happens.
A stronger editor would have helped, too. As someone who regularly bumbles through his own rewrites and misses things that are glaringly obvious, I can appreciate the fresh eyes of a skilled editor to see things an author doesn’t. There are numerous typos and other errors, problems with continuity–Dillon dons gloves at the beginning of one scene then mysteriously doesn’t have them on later in the same scene–that should have been caught and corrected.
The Gate at Lake Drive has the ingredients to be a fun romp but the different pieces never fit together as well as they should. The romance is the very definition of tacked-on. It almost feels like an entire subplot is missing. It’s obvious Meeks enjoys the character of Dillon, though, and with a stronger editor, I’m certain his next entry in the series will be an improvement.