The publishers of Ian Hamilton's The Disciple of Las Vegas: An Ava Lee Novel are attempting to position the book as Canada's answer to Steig Larssen and, get this, Ian Fleming, which says a lot about Canadian thrillers…and none of it good. Imagine Jack Webb adapting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and that will give you a sense of how "thrilling" this book is.
Ava Lee is a Toronto forensic accountant hired to recoup $65 million pilfered by a Vancouver executive working for a beer company in Manila. Oh, and she's a lesbian and a martial arts expert, not that either one of those aspects of her personality come into play at all…unless you count a brief fight and a couple of dull email exchanages with a stranger to arrange a blind date.
It's clear that Hamilton has no idea how to construct a thriller, much less a compelling story. The first hundred pages of this book are nothing but plodding, heavy-handed exposition without a shred of actual drama or conflict, all told without the slightest bit of style, wit, or fun.
Once the exposition finally lets up, the heroine spends her time flying from place to place, interviewing people, checking her email and making phone calls to tell other characters the boring things we already know. It's all about as action-packed and fun to read as a spreadsheet.
But the crippling problem with this listless story, beyond the exposition and repetition, is that there's no real conflict for Ava to confront or dramatic obstacles for her to overcome. The emotional and physical stakes aren't just low, they are non-existent for Ava and her clients who, to make matters worse, are depicted as thoroughly unlikeable and unworthy of her efforts.
So there is zero reason for the reader to care about what happens, and no rooting interest beyond, perhaps, wanting one-dimensional Ava to get her commission on the recovered money. That's not enough to motivate readers to slog their way through this book.
And they really shouldn't bother.
Nothing remotely interesting happens until page 218, but after ten surprisingly violent pages that offer some hope that things might finally start moving, the book falls right back into its deep, narrative slumber until the very end, a long and tiresome 130 pages later.
Ava may be a martial artist but she vanquishes her adversaries and overcomes her obstacles, what few insignificant ones there are, with phone calls rather than action. The climax of the book (and I'm being very generous calling it that) comes down to her making some phone calls to ask other people to make some phone calls, and then us hearing about those phone calls in some more phone calls. As if that wasn't enough fever-pitch phone call excitement, in the final confrontation with the bad guys, Ava offers to make one more phone call.
I suppose it's only fitting then that the epilog is Ava making some more phone calls and answering her emails.
Lisbeth Salander and James Bond, eat your hearts out.
5 thoughts on “A Novel Only H & R Block Could Love”
On behalf of all Canadians I say ‘humbug’. Thank you for an example of what NOT to do with a novel.
The book might not be any fun but your review of it sure was!
LIBRARY JOURNAL’s January issue gave a starred review and said “Highly recommended”.
Maybe the reviewer was having trouble sleeping and was looking for some literary ambien.
I won’t be bringing my first manuscript for you to review even though I bet I would learn a lot.
I have been following the blog almost a month and find it entertaining. Thanks for your work.