The Writer is a difficult book to evaluate. It is definitely a page-turner. It held my interest and kept me reading at an unusually rapid rate until near the end, when it got a bit too artificially complicated and implausible to continue to be the fun read it was through most of the first 200 pages. It may be, however, that I was just tired; it's extremely unusual for me to read an entire book in one day, but the author's talent prodded me on 'til near the end when one of us, me or Augusto Pinaud, started running out of steam.
The protagonist, George Mason, is an engaging sort of guy. For that matter, so is the FBI agent tailing him, agent Chen Pak. George loathes Pak, but that's because George is a loner who usually likes it that way, though from time to time he expresses mixed feelings about solitude and lost love. So he's a complex loner. a guy who manages to make a good living as a writer, even though he has still not finished his first novel and hasn't published anything else, except the anonymous manuscripts that, without explanation, appear in yellow envelopes on his front porch from time to time. George follows the directions that come with the manuscripts and publishes them under his own name, taking the credit and the money, much of which he gives away.
The manuscripts make for an intriguiging premise. He publishes the first with his own money. It gets noticed and is favorably received by a broad audience, including those with well-developed critical faculties, earning George the attention of publishers who pay him, reversing the original pattern of exchange.
Even more remarkable, the first three manuscripts, when published as widely distributed novels, lead to the solution of violent crimes, giving all and sundry the indelible impression that George is not only a talented writer, but an insightful, resourceful, and tireless researcher, as well. George is a voice for justice speaking on behalf of unfortunate victims who died before their time and cannot speak for themselves.
Sure, George feels like a hypocrite for being, as he puts it, "a writer who does not write." However, when a fourth manuscript appears and George decides to do the honest thing and destroy it, he finds that opting out of this unspoken and shadowy arrangement with whomever is producing all this full lenghth, novel-quality material is going to be a lot more difficult that he had imagined. A second copy of the manuscript lands on his front porch the very next day, with strictly stated instructions to publish it just as it is.
This sets George and his FBI followers, guys trying to figure out where he gets all the crime-solving information, into motion. A writer like this has to have sources, maybe unsavory and dangerous, maybe insiders, folks whe were complicit in the crimes George so artfully solved. And off we go to Colorado, still turning pages rapidly, still really interested in what all this means, who is involved, who is responsible for the fourth crime, the murder of a precocious seventeen-year old party girl who, as it turns out, was sexually involved with the Governor of Colorado and a U. S. Senator from the same state.
All to the good. We keep turning pages and being entertained.
But mixed in with all this fast-paced adventure involving an unlikely literary hero are so many typographical errors, clumsy locutions, dropped words, and grammatical mistakes that they scream for the aggressively heavy hand of a professional editor. It is abundantly clear that the author's first language is not English. Either that or he sees some sort of off-beat literary merit in writing as if standard English is less intersting than English rendered with truly odd turns of phrase and multiple malapropisms on just about every page.
George's involvenment with the FBI and local police intensifies as he and his new-found crime-busting colleagues travel to Colorado in search of clues promised by the fourth manuscript. The crime around which the manuscript is organized is the murder of Natalie Truman who, using an alias, became the promiscuous lover of the high-ranking and dangerous politicians mentioned above.
The Senator is especially well connected. Being active in an unnamed cartel of undetermined nature, he uses violence liberally, even cruelly when he has time, to assure his survival and lucrative political position. "Bringing him down," as George often puts it, won't be easy even with the help of numerous clean and committed FBI agents, not to mention some of their colleagues and administrators who turn out to be corrupt.
In fits and starts, what looks like success and a remarkably uncluttered and decisive ending for the Senator turns out to be nothing more than a wildly implausible complement of tricks that cost lives and careers, and enable the Senator to secretly escape. His position as a Senator has been hopelessly compromised, but he retains his high position in lucrative illegal enterpises.
In this latter part of the story, The Writer becomes a bit too complicated and implausible. Some of the activities of the FBI that enable the Senator to initially escape capture or termination are really quite implausible. One gets the feeling that Pinaud has learned a lot of what he takes for solid background material about law enforcement and the ways and wiles of big-ticket criminals from bad TV.
There is a lot wrong with Pinaud's first novel, so much that I feel it's unfair to give it more than two stars. Nevertheless, I liked The Writer. I enjoyed reading it. If Pinaud were to publish a sequel (and I hope he does), I'd definitely read it. It's easy to empathize with George Mason the loner, going through his daily routine, and struggling over the first novel of his own. I like the guy.
If Pinaud gets a really active and involved editor who can see the natural talent that is sometimes masked by too-numerous, too-serious mistakes in English usage, Pinaud can become a real professional, producing novels that are far more interesting, readable, and possessed of more sympathetic characters than, say, The Black Dahlia.
As things stand, however, in deference to the professional writers who may be less talented but who have more thoroughly mastered their craft and done their homework regarding the institutional settings in which their stories play out, I can't, in good conscience, give The Writer more than two stars.
In spite of that, I'll definitely be on the lookout for more work from Augusto Pinaud. I think he'll take the suggestions of his admiring but critical reviewers, put them to good use, and produce the kind of high-quality, novel-length prose accounts of which he is clearly capable. Even without the cleaning up and background work mentioned above, I still recommend The Writer. It's a quick, fun read, and I enjoyed it. If only there hadn't been that fifth manuscript ...