HALO: Death is not the end…[sic] by Kevin Orgill
Recommendation Rating: ★★☆☆☆ Only if it’s free and you have nothing else to read.
Please familiarize yourself with my rating system before you fire off angry emails.
Story/Plot: Halo: Death is not the end…[sic] begins with a prologue that is quite engaging and mysterious. It pulled me right in from the start and I couldn’t wait to see where the author was going to take the story. As the two primaries were introduced, their stories were interesting and further pulled me in. By about midway through the book, the story lost its oomph. The story became dull, labored and predictable. It seemed as though the author had a great short story that he was trying to stretch to a certain word count to call it a novel.
Characterization: The characterization can be divided equally into halves. The first half of the book showed the characters to be interesting and engaging. The characters had interesting stories, unique qualities, distinct voices and actions. The latter half of the book saw their voices and actions become quite ambiguous. I was searching for names in sentences and dialogue to try to find out who was doing the particular action, because all of the characters were acting and speaking in such a similar fashion. Some characters had multiple personas which were meant to have distinct characteristics. This was handled well early in the book, but poorly as the story continued. The author even incorrectly attributed bits of Giselle’s dialogue to Suzanne, seeming to have forgotten that himself.
Originality: The idea of a religious serial killer has been beaten to death by the thriller/suspense genre, to the point that you have to do something truly unique with it to stand out. I thought this would be my worst issue with the story. As it turns out, this is a very minor point; a label that the media adds to the killings. The religious theme is mentioned only a handful of times during the story. It seems almost like the author decided to add it later and threw in a couple of references so it wouldn’t be completely out of the blue. The stories of Oliver and Suzanne/Giselle are what will hold your interest, weaving a unique story early on. Much like the previous two categories, this rates quite high early in the book and falls apart midway through.
Readability: This is where it all goes to pot. The book is rife with spelling errors, many of which would be caught by any word editing program: transposed letters in words or two words missing a space between them. There are many homophones, misused punctuation marks, missing or incorrect capitalization, action attributed as dialogue, and so on. The formatting is awful, with a nearly blank page every third or fourth page (likely from manual page breaks in the word processing program before conversion), inconsistent chapter headings (TWENTY-FIVE, TWENTY=SIX), some chapters starting with no page break, while others have multiple blank pages before them, etc. Several sections required rereading a number of times and still didn’t make sense; Paragraphs appeared to be missing in several sections. Several chapters have indented paragraphs, while others do not. An extra hour formatting the manuscript could have eliminated most of the issues here, which would have made the others seem less severe.
Engagement: Once again, the engagement started of with gusto but lost force with every turn of the page. I really wanted to know the characters’ stories, and couldn’t wait to find out more. By midway through the book, all their secrets had been revealed. Rather than move to the confrontation, the author continues laboring to cover pages and the story devolves into arbitrary text.
Some spoilers and other things that stuck in my mind:
-One of the more jarring issues with readability, and one which I seem to have neglected to highlight a specific use of, is the way the author uses commas. I savagely overuse commas in my own work, it is my own worst issue. His comma use is just bizarre. A sentence might read like this: “There was an island in the middle of the stream and the water, was blue”. That is not a quote from the book, but it is the way he uses commas in many of his sentences. I think one could make a case that putting a comma after the word stream or leaving it out entirely would be acceptable. Using the comma in the manner above fragments the sentence and makes you reread it to try to determine the meaning. The frequency of these particular issues really take you out of the story.
-The author uses the archaic definition of the word poignant to describe the killer’s reaction to the smell of feces. Perhaps this use is more common in the UK than it is in the USA, but that description hit my ear wrong. I’m not saying it was necessarily wrong, but it made me stop reading for a full minute just trying to figure out who would think the smell of crap was poignant. I typically see that word used for black and white photos of flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers, not to describe the smell of shit.
-I’m still having issues trying to determine what the author meant with a few of the more fragmented paragraphs. The teenager ran at Oliver and threw a punch at his face but connected with his shoulder but then lifted his head quickly into Oliver’s face. Try to picture all that and tell me what the author was trying to say. Or this one: ‘I fancy staying in with a bottle of wine and a Chinese. Any objections?’ Is that a bizarre fetish? How about: He visited the chemist for pain killers but he could not face the police questioned him about the incident.
-The story opens with the primary, Oliver, watching as his brother William falls through an icy lake and drowns. This is our first indication that Oliver is not well and his story may be worth hearing. Through the book, the author makes no attempt to conceal the fact that Oliver is the killer. After each murder, Oliver would show up with mysterious new wounds matching the wounds the killer had suffered during his attack. We know that Oliver is the killer, but we don’t know why. The only reveal there could possibly be after the first few chapters is why. When we get to the end of the book, he pulls the old split personalities bullshit. That was the death of the story.
When I used Dissociative Identity Disorder as a red herring in In the Shadow of Angels, I did a great deal of research to make sure my references to it would be plausible. I’m not saying I nailed the nuances of it, but I at least made realistic references to the disorder. In Halo, the author uses it as the crux of his story, with obviously not a bit of research. The separate identities are actually talking to each other for the last few chapters of the book, with William actively trying to destroy Oliver’s life. If there were any references to this earlier in the story, I might buy that there was some otherworldly cause which could allow for this. There simply isn’t. The author just throws in the “Haha! It’s been me, William, the whole time!” bullshit. An unexpected ending is something that will leave readers wanting more…But…If it is only unexpected because there was absolutely no reference to it anywhere in the fist 90% of the story, it isn’t a surprise twist, it’s a “Fuck You”. You really shouldn’t end your first novel with a “Fuck You”.