Saturday, January 5, 2013

INDIE BOOK REVIEW: ‘Near Death’ asks big questions – but ultimately comes up short with romance



I like books that ask the big questions in life.

Why is the sky blue?

What happens when we die?

Why do people keep hiring Taylor Lautner when he can’t act?

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I picked up ‘Near Death’ by Richard C. Hale – but I definitely got more than I bargained for.

‘Near Death’ is the tale of scientist Jake Townsend, who loses his wife Beth in a disastrous accident and then proceeds to spend the next few years searching for answers about what lies beyond – and by that I mean, what happens after death.

Townsend is obsessed with not only being able to prove there is another side – but actually being able to communicate with those that have crossed over.

His lab partner, Teri, has been his best friend for years. She starts acting weird, though, when Jake brings in an outsider into their office to start helping them with their invention – a machine that can actually project scenes from people’s memories as they relive near death experiences. It becomes obvious to everyone but Jake that she has feelings for him.

There’s also a subplot about the government wanting to subvert the invention for nefarious means and a terrorist that needs to be stopped. Oh, and there’s also something supernatural going on – because Jake and the new office assistant, Madison, keep waking up screaming in the middle of the night with similar dreams.

Obviously, I’m not going to get into big spoilers.

Jake is a great leading man – and his obliviousness about the way women think is both hilarious and spot-on. Jake is a realistic character that is stuck between moving on and holding on to the wife he loved so dearly.

The problem with the story – the biggest one anyway – is the character of Madison.

You can kind of tell that a man wrote her – because she’s not at all realistic to women readers. Forget the fact that she still lives with her parents, but the neediness she travels through life with couldn’t possibly exist in a real person that didn’t have severe mental problems.

I think the book excels when it focuses on Jake, Bodey, Teri and the science – but it flounders when it tries to build a romance between Jake and Madison. It’s strained and forced.

Also, at the end of the book, there is a twist that is pretty much telegraphed from the first chapter. It wasn’t surprising – and it was a little too much like the movie ‘Signs,’ for my taste.

I do love the central endeavor of the book, though, and I know a lot of people that are as obsessed with death as they are with life – so they can relate to Jake and quest.

As an author, Hale is solid and the book doesn't have a lot of typos. Of those it does have, the one that bothered me the most was the substitution of the word "taught" for "taut." There aren't an abundance of them, though.

Ultimately, the book is well-written – and definitely worth a read – but it doesn’t answer the questions I think most people expect to have answered for them by the end. Instead, it wraps things up in a nice little bow with a hint that things might not be all that they seem.

I recommend reading ‘Near Dark,’ just don’t bother trying to invest in the central romance. If you can separate the two, though, this is a solid little read.

‘Near Dark’ is available for $2.99 on Kindle and $11.06 on paperback.

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