Friday, 22 February 2013

Edgars 2013: The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George Review

This is the first in a series of five posts reviewing the nominees for the 2013 Best Young Adult Novel Edgar Allan Poe Award, the winner of which will be announced on 2nd May 2013.

On the run from her murderous step-father, Becca King, a fourteen year old girl with the ability to read minds, goes into hiding on Whidbey Island, off the coast of Seattle. But when one of her new-found friends meets with an accident that leaves him in a coma, Becca must act carefully in order to avoid drawing the attention of the police and her step-father.

It seems to be the trend now days for adult crime writers to have a go at writing for teenagers. James Patterson, John Grisham, Peter Abrahams, Kathy Reichs and Harlan Coben have all had a crack at it, and The Edge of Nowhere, the first book in a planned series of four, is Elizabeth George’s attempt. Unfortunately, while writing for young adults seems to come naturally to some of the abovementioned writers (Peter Abrahams and Harlan Coben are particular stand-outs), the same cannot be said for Elizabeth George.

In writing for a younger audience, George is writing outside her comfort zone and it shows. She just doesn’t seem to get what is expected by this audience. It is not good enough to just write about a teenager with “magic” powers. YA audiences expect humour, adventure and fast pacing, all of which this book lacks. She also doesn’t seem to enjoy writing about teenagers. As the book progresses, George takes every opportunity to write about the older residents of the island and avoid writing about Becca. The second half of the book is dominated by a sub-plot about Seth, an adult high school drop-out, who is trying to get his life in order and help his ex-girlfriend’s family cope with her sick father. By the end of the book, Seth has become the main character and Becca just a minor character, even though on page one, Becca was clearly meant to be the star of the book.

Given George’s experience as a writer, it comes as no surprise that the quality of the writing itself is above average for a YA novel. However, it is astounding how bad the mystery is. Had I not known better, I would have sworn it was written by a first-timer, not by a veteran of 17 adult crime novels. The “crime” itself does not occur until around page 100 (of 388) - the first section instead being dominated by excessive detail about the geography of the island, George’s real-life home - and after that, it takes Becca until page 309 to decide to investigate. Once she makes this decision, she solves the mystery with the minimum of effort, and without really using her powers (which could easily have been omitted from the book), resulting in an unsatisfying ending and novel as a whole.

The Edge of Nowhere is a meandering mess of a book, and the only way I can explain it being nominated for the Edgar is because it has George’s name attached to it. Given the plot threads introduces early in the book (for example, Becca’s step-father and her psychic abilities), it had the potential to be good, but presumably George is saving the development of these ideas for future books in the series. Unfortunately, by holding off on the good stuff, many readers are unlikely to make it that far.

Verdict: One of the weakest mysteries I have read in years, George’s first foray into YA fiction is unlikely to garner additional readers for her adult books.

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