A mystery reading friend recently asked me what I thought about Kathy Reichs' Déja Dead.
Why bring up a book that came out sixteen years ago? Because a line from my Detroit Free Press review was in the paperback with other review quotes: "As good as Patricia Cornwell at her best."
So my friend wanted to know what I thought, since it was being read by her book group. I told her I couldn't remember. I reviewed hundreds of books for the Detroit Free Press back when I was their crime fiction columnist. Reviewed hundreds, and started and abandoned hundreds more searching for ones I thought my readers would enjoy.
I couldn't recall anything specific about Reichs' thriller, but that doesn't mean it wasn't good. It just meant that better books had eclipsed it in my memory. And that might have been a question of timing. Sometimes a book that people told me was great seemed dim because the book I'd reviewed just before it was amazing. Sometimes a book might have struck me as better than it actually was because I'd read a number of turkeys in a row.
Whatever I felt, I tried not to be steamrolled by the media juggernaut, because now and then I'd be hit with massive waves of PR telling me that this book was going to rock my world. If it didn't, I'd skip a review, unless I felt I wanted to issue a kind of consumer warning, a service to my readers: People say this book is brilliant, but don't feel there's something wrong with you if you don't agree.
I found that recently with Gillian Flynn's best-selling Gone Girl, whose movie version was just released. The whole galaxy seems to be in love with this thriller. Check out the Amazon page--you'd think nobody had ever written a thriller as amazing as this book, that Gillian Flynn, in other words, was as good as it gets. Is there a newspaper or magazine in the country that isn't in love with her book?
Friends whose taste I respect urged me to read it, and I tried more than once because I hadn't read a good thriller in a while and was looking for something gripping. Each time, though, I didn't get very far. Though I made some progress, the thought of spending any time at all in the company of a voice that obnoxious was painful to me. Overall, I found the prose uninviting.
As for the huge twist people raved about? Well, when they told me the set-up, I guessed at how the twist would unravel and I checked Wikipedia. I was right. That's not because I was especially clever, but because other writers and screenwriters had done similar things before Flynn and it was fairly obvious.
I'm on a mystery readers' and writers' discussion list where almost everyone thinks this book is dazzling, and when I disagreed, I got grateful comments off-list. Why is it that when the media raves about a book and Goodreads and Amazon seem to rubber stamp that opinion, people are often embarrassed to dissent?
Well, if it helps any of you out there who weren't wild about Gone Girl, take a closer look at its Amazon page. The last time I checked, for the 14,000+ readers there who gave it four or five stars, 7,000 gave it only one to three stars. You are not alone. Maybe it's time to think about a support group....
Lev Raphael is the author of Assault With a Deadly Lie, a novel of suspense, and 24 other books in many genres.