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Broken Men and Fallen Women

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Success Stories

by Rod MacDonald


ISBN 1 84350 087 6
Published by FrontList Books, 2003
217pp, paperback
Retail price

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher 

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Rod MacDonald is a man one cannot help but admire. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, he enjoys life to the full, and has written several broadcast radio dramas, besides being a regular reviewer (a role requiring considerable skill and tact) of science fiction.

All novelists put a bit of themselves into their books, and I would put money on best-selling author Paul Munro being Mr MacDonald’s alter ego – the man he would like to be if he could. That’s not what put me off the book. I prefer not to use words like "hackneyed" in a review, but it’s difficult to think of alternatives in this case. It’s not so much the plot as the stereotyped characters and situations. Ester [sic] is one of the most two-dimensional women I have ever encountered in fiction. Clearly the author does not like religious bigotry (who does?) but he would have produced a more interesting study of it if he’d tried talking to one or two Christians. I mean, what regular churchgoer would refer to "the book of Luke", for a start? (We call it "Luke’s gospel".) Here’s one area where Mr MacDonald might have taken note of his own advice: "The world and its population were his raw materials, but he couldn’t afford to take too remote a view. One had to experience to really understand."

The opening chapter is more tricksy than most. I’m not a great lover of clever openings, but this one has an additional twist, making it almost a spoof. We go from believing we are about to read a science-fiction novel to thinking we are reading crime fiction to finding out we aren’t (or rather we are, but not in the context). This makes what follows intriguing, but it may not have been the wisest tactic to describe the assault on Ben from Ruth’s point of view. Apart from sounding impossibly contrived, it kills the suspense, lessening the impact of the later chapters, as we gradually discover Ruth’s motivation through her encounters with others. (What exactly did happen to her children?)

Despite the holes and despite the stereotyping, this is a pacey and effective thriller, and I was quickly hooked. It’s always a good sign when you want to pick up a book and find out what happens next – I got through over 80 pages just sitting at the hairdresser’s! Although the individual plot strands may be commonplace, they are woven together in a way that is neither predictable nor boring. The ending left me gasping. Clear moral messages find their way through the sometimes disjointed episodes. The language, whilst not exactly imaginative, is lucid and cogent, as one would expect from such an experienced writer.

Advice is not something one author is always in the position to offer another, but we seek, in all Tregolwyn reviews, to suggest improvements rather than knocking holes in a piece of work that has taken a considerable investment of time and effort to put onto the page. Content is not, of course, always the final word in the success or otherwise of a publication. Marketing plays its part, as does the presentation of a quality product. Whilst Broken Men and Fallen Women is fine in terms of typesetting, proof-reading and general appearance, I did feel that the cover illustration suggested a Black Lace publication rather than a serious novel. On the plus side, I doubt that potential readers of that kind of "fun" would get much satisfaction from the modest sex scenes to which our author has treated us. It is not easy to write on the subject of prostitution and abuse without descending into the prurient, and there is almost a sense of embarrassment about these sections of the book – as though Mr MacDonald is going through the motions. Perhaps that’s no bad thing, but I would recommend he choose a theme with which he is more familiar for his next novel (whose publication I eagerly anticipate).