- Ernest Hemingway, In his Nobel prize acceptance speech
There’s much to enjoy in Keith Houghton’s thriller Killing Hope, the first in a series about Los Angeles police detective Gabe Quinn. Too much, in fact.
The story’s exciting, the main character interesting, the dialogue generally sharp and satisfying. Gabe Quinn, a cop with a personal tragedy in his past (they all do nowadays, don’t they? I used to like that, but it’s getting to be a trope), is cynical and has a good noir voice: “Like I say, I don’t believe in coincidences – especially when it comes to homicide. Coincidences are for people who think the universe is cute. It isn’t.”
But the whole thing is loose. Too many plot branches, too many characters who show up for a while and then never appear again (or do after so long that you’ve forgotten who they were). And the prose needs editing. Bad imagery like, “Flung my eyes wide open.” (Imagine doing that.) Misuse of the word “enormity.” Misplaced hyphens. Consistent misspelling of words, like “devises” for “devices.”
Also he inserts a plot point in which the FBI, most of whose agents are depicted here as thugs, beat a suspect nearly to death to get a confession, something that would have the ACLU on their backs with grappling hooks in the real world. Points lost for believability.
I have an idea – I’m not sure from where – that the author is an English native. The prose definitely supports that. He spells “gray” with an “e,” and calls a yard a garden and a scarf a muffler. But if that’s true I have to generally praise his command of American idiom. Only a few slips come through. Mostly the dialogue is note-perfect.
My uninformed judgment is that Houghton is a writer with great talent, much in need of an old fashioned editor. Such an editor would have instructed him to cut this very long book down by about a third, remove extraneous scenes and characters, and focus, focus, focus. There’s good stuff here, but I got tired of it after a while.
Oh yes, consolidate chapters. There’s too many very short chapters in Killing Hope.
Still, worth reading if you have the patience for it.
Cautions for language, violence, and adult situations.