Lot’s Return to Sodom/Sandra Brannan

Greenleaf, 2011

On Saturday I spent a lot of money on books at the Four-Eyed Frog and I say that with pride.  I bought a Captain Alatriste novel, Pirates of the Levant, the latest Alan Bradley, a LeCarre, and a strange little book called Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, because I couldn’t resist the title and the use of weird old photographs throughout the book.  To top it off I bought the beautifully illustrated, wildly irreverent, proudly vulgar and hugely funny not-children’s book Go the F**k to Sleep.

That should have been enough, but on Sunday I went back and bought a mystery that had caught my eye the day before.  It’s called Lot’s Return to Sodom.

This is the second book of a series with a woman main character named Liv Bergen.  Liv is not in law enforcement and seems to be in the Jessica Fletcher mode of detective. The writer, Sandra Brannan has had an interesting life and puts a lot of that into her fictional world according to the jacket flap.

The book is probably interesting but I may never know because I stopped at page 47.

Review websites have an acronym, DNF, “Did Not Finish.”  Lot’s Return to Sodom has, at least temporarily, fallen in to that category for me.

I found the opening sections of this book implausible. Brannan alternates POV by chapters, not an uncommon choice, but some of the chapters are narrated first-person by Liv.  I tend to see this as a clue that the writer is struggling.  She wants an intimate narrative voice, but knows she can’t get the necessary information to the reader if she stays in one POV. There’s nothing wrong with alternating, but why not cultivate a close, immediate third-person POV for your main character, so that it isn’t jarring?

In the first section that is narrated by Liv, Chapter Three, she is riding in a truck with her brother, back home in the town she grew up in, where she is recovering from wounds she got when she was attacked by a murderer in the first book.  There is a huge biker rally going on, which we know from the earlier chapters, and Lucifer’s Lot, a bad gang, is there in force.  Liv’s brother stops at his factory to go talk to someone, leaving Liv in the truck.  While she is waiting, a group of bikers appears, with a young woman in tow.  Liv ducks down behind the seat and hides while they engage in group sex with the woman.  At first it seems unsavoury but consensual–but then the woman collapses.  Another biker arrives who says she is dead.  Liv can hear all of this.  Crouching on the floor of her brother’s truck, she scrambles for his cell phone and calls 911.  The dispatcher says it will be a while because there is a lot of activity.  Liv says okay and the dispatcher hangs up.  Really?  The woman might not be dead—and they hang up?  Presumably they dispatch an ambulance or something.  Liv passes the time by listening to every line of dialogue and taking pictures of the bikers with her brother’s phone-camera.  Then the bikers ride away as sirens approach.  End of chapter.

In the next chapter Liv walks into her parents’ house and makes herself a tuna sandwich.  She reflects on how she didn’t say anything to her brother about the bikers or the possibly not-dead woman on the drive home.  Apparently, they left before emergency vehicles arrived, and Liv never even got out of the truck to check on the victim.  The bikers had gone and there would have been no danger.

Liv is supposed to look brave and resourceful in the truck, I think, having the wit to take pictures and call 911 instead of just being terrified.  All of that is undercut, however, by what appears to be unbelievable callousness.  The scene in the truck is already implausible, though, because the writer chooses to report every line of dialogue, with the bikers calling each other by their biker names, just so Liv can capture it all.  This first-person narration is not visceral.  Is Liv afraid?  I’d be.  Are her hands shaking?  Is her heart racing? Does her stomach hurt?  None of that is mentioned. Instead, she remembers her mother’s purse, that was like Mary Poppins’s handbag and has whatever you need in it when you need it (because Liv thinks she need a Sig Sauer at this moment).

With the alternating POV, Brannan could simply have inserted a chapter from someone else between the bikers leaving and Liv’s sandwich, providing some distance and letting the reader fill in for themselves what Liv and her brother might have done back at the scene.  She does have to be careful if the woman in the alley with the bikers is also the body Liv is called about later, which it certainly seems to be, but that could be managed.

It’s possible that all these little wrinkles are ironed out, and the story goes great guns for a blazing, suspenseful finish, but I am probably not going to stick around to find out. Right now, at least, Liv Bergen is competing with too many compelling characters in too many other books.

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6 Responses to DNF

  1. Chad Hull says:

    Right now, at least, Liv Bergen is competing with too many compelling characters in too many other books.

    How many books do you read at once? I can’t manage more than one at a time some I’m jealous of all who have that ability.

  2. Marion says:

    I usually read two or three. I usually have a book I take to work to read at lunch, and a book at home at least. I find that I’m slowing down and really can’t do more than that and keep up on the Economist. I had just finished Green by Jay Lake, and was starting the Alan Bradley, which is a mystery. Liv just can’t complete with Flavia de Luce.

    However, when I read Embassytown, I put away all the other books because it required my complete attention. I love it when they do that.

  3. Chad Hull says:

    What did you think of Green?

  4. Marion says:

    Hmm. I was going to ask if you had read it and what *you* thought of it. I think Lake had a powerful idea and creates an interesting world even if it is somewhat familiar. the character of Green is powerful. I thought she was plausible, even if she was at the border of unbelievable with all her fighting skills, etc. There is something wrong with the plot, and then he tries to fix that by jamming everything together in the last fifty pages. . . also, I thought that in those last 50 pages, Green begins to do things purely to make the plot work, not from her own motivations. I read it because I plan to read *Endurance* which comes out soon; I’ll be interested to see how the story progresses.

  5. Chad Hull says:

    Terry and I read that near the time it was released. I didn’t leave commentary for it, but had a bit to say on Terry’s blog.


    I’d hit up my library for the second installment, but it’s no day one purchase for me.

  6. Marion says:

    I’ll have to go back and look at that posting. I remember reading it at the time. I only read Green because I’m supposed to be getting an ARC for Endurance.

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