The Red Eye is the debut novel by by K. W. Taylor. I went into this book wanting to like it. I really did. The premise of the book, according to the blurb we received, was that it would be about a late-night radio talk-show host who debunks legends, myths and the arcane. This becomes a bit of a problematic embarrassment for him when he slowly gets dragged into the arcane world himself.
The character introduction actually went off really well, too. This author grabbed me with her description of the hungover deejay puttering to work in his Volkswagen Rabbit. Here’s the introduction we get to our main POV, Brody, and his attitudes:
“Comin’ up, the midnight ramblings of a voice from beyond,” George droned. “Phone lines open up in ten, so call up and talk to me. Two two nine…” He rattled off the phone number, and I rolled my eyes.
“Voice from beyond.” Shyeah. Whatever, dude. I’m a goddamned skeptic, not a psychic.
Nobody understands my show, not even the other deejays.
I love a strong intro scene. From the first couple pages it was apparent the author knew how to use the English language, and she was starting to set up something interesting.
The problem for me, is that much like the other deejays, once I got into the book I didn’t understand Brody either. The intro to the book sets up someone who is a self-described career-skeptic, who has a history of debunking the paranormal, who has won himself a whole show devoted to disproving things that go bump in the night, and isn’t afraid go toe-to-toe with anyone who says differently.
With giving Brody that kind of background, I wanted to see him kicking some ass and debunking something at the beginning of the book. He can be rude; he can be snarky– the author’s set up a guy that doesn’t care who he pisses off, and is perfectly OK with rolling into work 20 minutes late and hungover, no matter whose feathers it ruffles– but to pull off that kind of strong introduction this character has to show us that intense, analytical mindset in action. It’s what allows him to poke holes in others’ (obviously erroneous) beliefs and enjoy doing so.
Instead, we see none of that. The first call of the night freaks him out, and even though this is a caller he’s supposedly had verbal sparing matches with for months, we aren’t shown any of that. Instead, he kinda believes her and cuts the call short, while he hurriedly reassures himself she’s just being a kook. Here’s the kicker: all the caller says is that he’s pissing people off in the arcane community, and he may not like the consequences.
Ok. Well. Yeah. Of course, he is. That kind of goes with the territory. The character you’ve just introduced me to, who I was hoping to read about, wouldn’t give a flying flip who “in the arcane community” he pisses off. He doesn’t believe in it!
Which led me, the reader, to this chain of thought:
Wait, a minute. This can’t be right. This guy talks to fanatics who believe in the arcane for a living. They are probably 99% of his callers. If he gets spooked by a repeat caller, where is his skepticism? If he doesn’t even argue with her, or try to spar, how does he debunk anything? How does he even have a show?
To be clear, nothing in the least spooky has happened to Brody’s character at all at this point in the book. And here is my biggest, ultimate problem with this book. Brody is not a skeptic. Brody doesn’t become a skeptic. Let’s go back to Webster’s dictionary. A skeptic is:
a person who questions or doubts something (such as a claim or statement) : a person who often questions or doubts things
Brody just kinda hopes the arcane isn’t reality.
For example, Brody confronts a stalker who turns out to be his repeat caller, and instead of assuming like any other reasonable human, that’s she’s just a crazy stalker– which would be still scary enough on its own– he immediately buys into everything she says.
Instead of thinking, “Wait a minute. This is a stalker who’s just admitted to following me around for months, and could easily have found any of this information by chatting up my estranged ex-wife, talking to my landlord, hell on Google, or even going through my trash like any other sham psychic,” he immediately jumps to the conclusion that she must be on the level, even though he doesn’t want to believe it. The author doesn’t even try to show us any kind tap-dance from Brody that might indicate he doesn’t buy her story hook, line, and sinker.
This is topped off with Brody’s assistant telling him that George (the announcer from our little introduction piece) tried to make a human sacrifice out of her on their first date. Guess what. He believes that too. No problem-o. Not even a glimmer of, “While I’m sure that was very scary, and you have every right to avoid him, are you sure that’s what really happened? And really, why the hell didn’t you go directly to the cops, change jobs, etc?”
There is no skeptical mindset to this character at all. Brody is a believer who had a crisis of faith, and now the arcane is coming to reclaim him. I’m thinking that he made up all of the debunking on his resume, so he could stay up late at night and drink.
This flaw (which I’m obviously having big trouble with) gets compounded because once Brody does finally start to get some answers, the author clumsily cuts out mid-dialogue and withholds all of the new information from the reader while continuing the scene. This results in a disappointed reviewer.
And I quote:
“This gets a trifle complicated,” she said.”Let me see if I can explain.”
And boy did she ever. When she was done, I didn’t know what to believe anymore.
Nothing… nothing in my dull but happily quiet life would ever be dull or happy or quiet anymore, not if everything she said was true.
She held out the candle, and her gaze pierced me with expectation and a glimmer of hope.
And the scene continues with no attempt at actual explanation whatsoever.
Say what? Brody gets some kind of breakdown about what’s going on (as I give up on him ever being a skeptic, sigh. Brody loves him some hearsay), and the audience doesn’t even get to go along for the ride? That’s just not cool. It’s OK to withhold information from your readers, dramatic tension depends on it, but you can’t have a scene in which someone deliberately and blatantly reveals information to your POV without also giving it to the audience. You can break the scene before the information is divulged, you can hint that information may have been given, and have it occur not in the scene, but you can’t intentionally exclude your audience from something the POV is currently experiencing.
Guess what? Telling your reader, “Now the character learns all kinds of information, but I’m not going to show you,” throws your reader right out of the scene. It excludes them from your story.
One good thing I can say about this book is that the prose is easy to read. The imagery is often spot-on and interesting. I just wish the characters were as consistent, and the book didn’t try so hard at being spooky and abstruse. Possibly some readers will be able to get over the fact that Brody isn’t a skeptic, or the author’s tendency to wave information in front of the reader before jerking it away, Charlie-Brown-style– presumably in the pursuit of more mysteriousness. Obviously, I couldn’t.
So final thoughts on this one: This book had a great premise with lots of potential, but failed to follow through. It could have been great. Instead, it is rather disappointing, and not really recommended.