Book Talk: ‘The Last Housekeeper’ bombs
When I started this column, one of my goals was to find new authors whose works are well written and entertaining. Over the months, I’ve purchased a few books that should never have been published. Most of them were self-published, often with help from some commercial enterprise that does not do editing. You’ve never read about any of these books in my column.
Kari Shuey’s “The Last Housekeeper” (2019, 252 pages) is a debut novel that I consider to be right on the borderline. Although it’s a short novel, I seriously thought about closing the cover and quitting several times. However, the book has received such rave reviews (mostly 5 stars) that I thought I might be missing something, including the “surprise twist ending.”
Ms. Shuey writes well, by which I mean that the book is not rife with grammatical errors or misspellings. However, she shies away from the use of contractions in dialogues, and that’s a mistake because Americans don’t say, “I am going to the store” or “We do not chew tobacco” unless they graduated from Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, or Smith College. We say “I’m” and “don’t” in ordinary conversations. I think the reason for this peculiarity is that we learn to speak in the real world, and we learn to write in school, which — either by design or happenstance — is not the real world.
But that’s just a minor annoyance. “The Last Housekeeper” is marketed as a murder/mystery novel. It would be better described as a romance novel about two adults fumbling their way through a possible “puppy love” relationship. The “murder” took place before the novel begins, so it’s not false advertising.
There is also a major problem with the use of POV (point of view) narrative. POV can be very effective when there are two or three principal characters. However, Ms. Shuey’s use of shifting POV’s is disturbing because of redundancy. For example, a chapter may be written from the housekeeper’s POV. Her name is Abby Russell, and she may inform readers that she and Mr. Saxe (sometimes called Gavin) shopped for dinner at a supermarket. She may tell us that they bought two steaks, four ears of sweet corn, and two baking potatoes.
In the following chapter, we hear from Mr. Saxe who discusses his shopping spree with Ms. Russel, during which they purchased two steaks, four ears of sweet corn, and two baking potatoes. Of course, this is a bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit. Too often, I’d read a chapter while wondering if I’d misplaced my page marker and was rereading a portion of the novel that I’d just finished.
To be honest, the book does have the advertised “surprising twist ending.” But it is too contrived. If I had only read the last 40 or 50 pages, perhaps I would not have had a negative impression of this author’s works. For my readers who enjoy romance novels that move at the same pace as “sands through an hourglass,” this would be an appropriate novel.
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at email@example.com.