Most people I know have a set of rules by which they live. I’m not talking about society’s rules and laws, but rules like never go out with a musician. Or never date a girl who has more than half her age in stuffed animals on her bed. Rules like these are the result of lessons we at least believe the Universe taught us at one point or another.
I have my own codes to follow, of course. Like “Rule #36: Never conduct a chemical experiment on a loved one.” I take my rules as seriously the next person and do my very best not the bend them. So it’s with not a little hesitation that I break this one now…
Rule #68: Never review a book you couldn’t finish.
I have this rule because I like to talk about specifics in my reviews. If you can’t stick through a book to the end, it’s hard to express an opinion more nuanced than “I hated it.” However, in the case of The Crossover Test, I think I can do more than that.
The Crossover Test is Joseph J. Schwartz‘s supernatural thriller and it follows the adventures of two brothers named James and Rory as they ride across the country to pay tribute to their late father. There’s mystery and mysticism going around, a demonic assassin is killing off people in the brothers’ peer group, and the brothers themselves have a unique heritage which puts them at the center of a growing storm.
There’s an intriguing setup, an interesting premise and there might be a fantastic story lurking within. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know, and after three days of reading I’ve only just hit the half-way mark at page one thirty.
The problem? This book needed a skilled editor to work his or her magic on every level.
There are an alarming number of typos and grammatical problems in this book, but those mechanical errors aside, the content itself needed a trained eye.
For example, Rory is a recovering alcoholic one day shy of his one year anniversary. Saying this sort of thing is an important milestone is like saying Death Valley gets a little hot. There’s a scene in a hotel room where the two brothers are arguing because Rory wants a small sip of whiskey to celebrate. The scene is handled well enough and it concludes without Rory slipping.
Great! But then, less than a page later, we learn he drank half the bottle right after James goes to sleep–and we learn it at the hands of two sentences that seem downright casual.
You never gloss over something this important to one of your main characters. Period. There’s no way you can see this and not believe the author dropped the ball. Experiencing situations like these are why people read in the first place. Sure, no one bats a thousand, but you cannot miss a scene like this in the final product. A good editor, or even a decent beta reader, would have pointed out this omission.
And the list goes on. James and Rory appear to have had a childhood filled with supernatural things, but the substance and extent is left as an exercise for the reader. There’s even a point when their mother talks to them through the truck’s AM/FM radio and the brothers don’t think much of it. Maybe stuff like this happens to them all the time, but it would have been nice if the author clued us in.
Then there’s the mysterious Apache woman who keeps showing up to say cryptic things, the inexplicable scenes where Rory’s personality appears to revert to that of a twelve year old boy, and the fact that of all the characters in the book, only the assassin is more than a cardboard cutout.
In fact, several scenes with the assassin border on brilliant. As it kills its victims, it takes on a part of them. Their memory? Their soul? Either way, it’s haunted by their thoughts and voices. By the time we catch up to it in the book, the assassin has taken so many lives it’s lost most of its own identity and is in a kind of crisis. It’s interesting, and even invokes something approaching sympathy from time to time, but can’t carry the novel alone.
Maybe things get better in the last half of the book. And maybe the story Joseph Schwartz is trying to tell has an ending so great you can forgive the poor craftsmanship of the work. I’ll never know, though, because three days has only gotten me to the half-way point and a week is too long to spend reading a book that feels like it was written and published in less time.