Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like. This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag). Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me. Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.
Review of Ice Fire by David Lyons
Reading and finishing this book was very frustrating. There were so many problems with it that I just couldn't get into it. The plot is very simple: A U.S. District Judge, Jock Boucher, becomes involved with Bob Palmetto, a scientist who claims that an energy company tried to steal his intellectual property, a way of mining methane hydrate. The two set out to prove Palmetto's claim against the company.
First of all, the book is poorly written. Phrases are repeated: "It looked to be about the size of a volleyball. . . . The clump was bigger than a volleyball" (131). When describing a woman's eyes, the author writes, "They were haunting, not unlike those of a wolf . . ." (199) and then, just a few pages later, two men are "holed up in Perry's office like wolves in a cave . . . " (207). Using the same animal imagery for two dissimilar situations suggests a lack of imagination. Characters often repeat the same thing for no reason. For example, Palmetto refuses to enter Judge Boucher's home and, for some reason, gives his refusal twice: "'No, sir, I'd rather not'" (12) and "'I don't want to go inside your house'" (13). Later, when describing his research concerning methane hydrate, he says, "'. . . I invented a way to exploit it safely'" (13) and then, after three short sentences, repeats, "'I invented a way to get the gas up to the surface safely'" (13). Like needless redundancies, cliches like "scratched his eyes out" (232, 233) and "needle in a haystack" (215) abound. When describing the consequences of improperly extracting the new energy source, vague phrases such as "cataclysmic consequences" (113) and "a cataclysm beyond our worst nightmare" (252) and "unbelievable damage" (261) keep being used.
The tone is often pedantic. The novel is set in New Orleans and environs, and the author often gives excessively detailed descriptions of architecture and antiques (180, 235). He's an expert on great bartenders (181), great restaurants (199), and owners of fine antiques (254).
The characters are unrealistic or stereotypical. Judge Boucher is supposed to be an admirable character: besides being a judge, he's an expert on New Orleans, antiques, and architecture, and a reader of "rare manuscripts" (244). He is also very physically fit, handily defeating anyone who confronts him. Ironically, he doesn't possess the most important abilities he should have: he says stupid things (21), is forgetful (259) and isn't able to decipher an obvious clue (229). Palmetto has an usual set of skills; he's a scientist who can pick locks expertly (264) and believes in spirits (270). Virtually all the police, the FBI, and the justices are corrupt. For instance, the FBI gives a report investigating a judge to that very judge (15)! One character claims, "'You guys in that Federal Building are one big fucking cabal'" (44) yet she trusts the information she acquires after calling the district court (43). If law enforcement members aren't corrupt, they're stupid; the police, for example, don't know enough to secure the perimeter of a building when providing security (245).
The greatest weakness in the novel is that characters do not behave logically and events are not realistic. An FBI agent was not involved in a twenty-year-old case but knows a great deal about it (29)? A man dies around 4 a.m. but, by the beginning of that work day, colleagues already know the exact cause of death (37)? A woman has information to prove corruption but declines to give it to the judge: "'You'll know when the time is right'" (47). Two hours later she has placed the information in his truck (48), although he conveniently forgets about it until the very end (255 - 256). And she's not the only person to say something so obviously contrived; another woman, later in the novel, says, "'There's something important I want to tell you, . . . Not now, but in my own time'" (207). Whether a person is right- or left-handed is determined by how he/she shakes hands (72, 209)? A murder victim is found in the judge's driveway, but how her body was discovered is never explained and neither is the placement of the body. A government agency has been letting someone visit for years, and "he'd never even been asked his name" ( 100)? A research vessel, a "'priceless scientific tool'" (113) complete with a mini-sub, is sent on a mission only if there is "'the strongest scientific justification'" (114) but Palmetto convinces a communications officer (?) to authorize an expedition using the argument that the Americans must "'Beat the Russians'" (114)! Then we learn that the vessel regularly takes passengers: "the passenger list frequently included guests from all walks of life" (125). A character infiltrates company headquarters (needlessly) and actually steals a file he knows to be empty (264, 267)? The judge and Palmetto concoct a bizarre scheme which includes getting John Perry, the owner of the energy company, to give the judge an office in his building (158). Only later does Perry realize, "'I don't want some damn judge hanging around here . . . '" (191)?! And don't get me started on the closing scene (274)! Let's not forget the almost magical tools which are sent to the judge. He receives, among other things, "a box with bits and pieces of plastic" (171), but they are never mentioned again until much later (241). It can't possibly be a surprise that these are used almost immediately afterwards (246)! He is also given an enhanced cell phone (171-172); at times, it works even when it shouldn't (184), but of course it doesn't work at crucial times (224). And these are just some of the examples of illogical, unrealistic incidents!
Then there are the errors, inconsistencies, and contradictions. A character with a physical disability is teased about being in training for the Special Olympics (102)? The judge meets a character on Thursday; Friday evening he says that he'd met her "'several evenings ago'" (68). A character tells the judge, "'I've put in a good word for you, and I have influence there'" (186) but shortly after suggests, "'I think my days at Rexcon are numbered'" (201).
This book is described as a thriller, but there is very little suspense and it is entirely predictable. A character's dying words (229) aren't understood until days later (262) even though there is absolutely nothing cryptic about those words, especially since they have been so carefully explained earlier, in a very contrived scene (202).
This book will appeal to people who like to read without thinking about what they're reading. Personally, I prefer my reading to meet basic requirements of logic and style. (I understand that I read an uncorrected proof, having received a free advance uncorrected proof of this book through Goodreads First Reads, but I can't imagine that all of these issues I've raised will be addressed.)