Monday, September 29, 2008

Death Dealt the Hand by John E. Bailor

The development of affordable Print On Demand self-publishing is both a blessing and a curse for aspiring writers. On the one hand, it's easier and cheaper to see your work in print. On the other, it's easy for your novel to get lost in an ever-growing tidal-wave of crap.

Because, let's be honest, most self-published books are crap. Badly written, poorly edited and inadequately proofed, the majority are literally unreadable.

But that's the majority. There are some gems in there. Great books like A Year in the Merde started life as POD, but soon sold enough copies and earned enough acclaim for a 'real' publisher to take note.

So, in the interests of give Print on Demand books a fair crack of the whip, I took a stab and read one. In this instance, a James Bond style spy thriller called Death Dealt the Hand.

Written by Pennsylvania resident John E. Bailor, Death Dealt the Hand stands out from other self-published books by having some pretty enthusiastic reviews online, including this one which promises that the book contains: "some good hand-to-hand fighting scenes... ...forced sodomy, naked hotel employees waiting in his hotel room..."

Author John Bailor ambitiously promises: "Thriller fans, including those of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, should appreciate Trevor Byrne, a modern American hero who gets into incredible situations and survives using his wits and training."

Sign me up. Sounds like a riot!

I dived into Death Dealt the Hand with a healthy dose of skepticism, not expecting much from a self-published book that slotted so neatly into such a derivative genre. James Bond rip offs - just like any self published book involving vampires or werewolves - tend to be bloody awful.

Fortunately, low expectations resulted in a pleasant surprise. John Bailor's book wasn't half bad!

Death Dealt the Hand is dripping in Flemingesque touches - most obviously in the characterisation (or rather lack thereof) of 'modern American hero' Trevor Byrne, a 'Mary Sue' if ever I've seen one.

Trevor is clearly a stand-in for the author - fair enough, since Ian Fleming often admitted that he based James Bond after himself (and it's not tough to guess the inspiration for ginger-haired, leather-jacketed and Firebird-driving Adventure Eddy.)

Just like the old James Bond books, rather than give the main character too much personality, Death Dealt the Hand features pages and pages of 'product placement', mentioning the liquors, foods, cars and toiletries Trevor Bryne favours - clearly trying to establish him as a sophisticated man who appreciates the finer things in life.

James Bond favoured Tiptree 'Little Scarlet' strawberry jam for breakfast, smoked custom-made Morland cigarettes (containing a special blend Balkan and Turkish tobacco, with three gold bands on the filter) and drank Bourbon on ice, in addition to his more famous 'shaken, not stirred' martinis.

Trevor Byrne, on the other hand, likes 12 year old Chivas Regal and smokes Honduran cigars - although he commits cardinal crimes by mixing his scotch with ginger ale and polluting his Baccarat cigar by lighting it with a Colibri lighter, instead of a match [Actually, a Colibri uses clean-burning butane, which is an acceptable alternative to regular lighter fluid. - Editorial Bear]

Plus, he's got a pet rabbit. Yes, this bad-ass, James Bond substitute has a pet rabbit. Not only that, the bunny manages to save his life at one point. That's worth the sticker price on it's own.

Similar to the James Bond books, Trevor soon finds himself given a 'mission' - in this case, to investigate a German pharmacist trying to hurry a treatment for HIV and AIDS through the FDA approval process. As Trevor gets closer to his target, he discovers than this so-called 'humanitarian' secretly has a very murderous agenda.

It's a merry little chase to the climax of the book - featuring some really unique touches (the bad guy abuses and then executes Trevor's lover in a very sadistic fashion) in addition to some tired old James Bond clichés (I'm officially ordering a mortiorium on secret agents crawling through air-vents from this point on, y'hear?)

All in all, Death Dealt the Hand ended up being surprisingly satisfying. There's more good then bad here - and it definitely showed promise.

The good? Well, the book's got the sex, the violence, the car chases and the 'product placement' I demand from a good spy-thriller.

The bad? Well, it definitely reads like a first draft. The whole books needs to be seriously reworked before it could be considered ready for publishing. Some of the characterisation is wafer thin as well - just because the bad guy's a German, it doesn't automatically make him a bad guy. Also, if you're going to feature explicit sex and sadistic torture, be explicit about it. There's nothing worse than ending a scene when we're getting to the 'good bit' or using euphemisms like 'manhood' instead of the real (read: dirty) words!

That being said, the fundamentals of Death Dealt the Hand are pretty good. With a bit more thought, I think John Bailor could certainly rework this into something publishable.

I'll admit, I approached Death Dealt the Hand with nothing but scathing skepticism, so it's pretty impressive that Bailor's vivid imagination managed to overcome that. I'll certainly be keeping an eye out on what this aspiring author does and wish him nothing but the best of luck for the future of his writing career.


katie said...

Roland! how are you!? i have missed you so! and your kid is the cutest thing ever. hope you and the family are doing very well! much love from my weiner and i. :)

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