The story begins when a dead body, the third in a series of murders, is discovered in rural Virginia. These murders are unique because each of the bodies has been shockingly altered; they are all males who exhibit inexplicable female characteristics. With most of the FBI busy fighting terrorists, it is down to agent Jack Stanwick to crack the case with the help of three dysfunctional detectives, a beautiful journalist, and a series of clues that lead him to a shocking conspiracy.
Alter Ego has an engaging plot that differs from many other detective novels. Far from sticking to the common whodunnit formula, you learn quite early on who is responsible for the murders. As the story goes on the motivation for these heinous crimes become clearer, and with quite a complicated plot as well as several subplots there is a rather a lot going on in this relatively short novel.
Some of the story isn’t as well explained as it could have been. I would have liked the motivation behind turning men into women explored in a bit more detail, as I didn’t find the ‘women are weaker and easier to control’ explanation satisfactory on its own, without knowing how that was going to be implemented to the advantage of the perpetrators. The story ends a bit abruptly, but as this is the first book in a series it makes sense that the author chose to end his story on a cliffhanger.
I’m afraid the writing style lets the author down at times. Whilst Tory does clearly have genuine talent and some parts of this novel flow really well, other sections felt quite stilted and unpolished. I feel the book could have benefited from a bit more editing.
One thing that struck me as particularly out of place was a rather strange page in chapter nine that is full of alliteration for no apparent reason.
“As frolicking female follies of fancied fuss and fierce fracas fomented the four walls, the feminine figures were forced into fragmented file.”
Alliteration can be a great addition to the overall style of a novel. However, in this case it felt quite unnecessary and out of place, and I was a little confused as to why it was there at all.
Dialogue and setting
Tory relies quite heavily on dialogue to tell this story and most of the time that works really well. It is quicker to read than excessive descriptions so it helps the story flow better, and it can be a believable way to show the characters personality and explain past events whilst simultaneously moving the plot forward.
However, there are times when flashbacks would have been a better way to explain certain parts of this story. Tory sometimes has his characters explain past events by having unconvincingly long and detailed conversations about a particular event, which doesn’t work very well because it’s not always believable that the characters would be giving these detailed explanations to someone who was there at the time in question and therefore already knows everything. It’s quite obvious some of these conversations are just there to fill the reader in, and I feel another approach could have worked better.
There are also times when the dialogue lets the story down, and more often than not this is when the character Russ is speaking. I appreciate that Russ is meant to be quite a distinguishable Californian/surfer/slang speaking/air head type, and I thought the character himself was very strong, funny, easy to visualize and worked really well with the other detectives. Unfortunately, this character says words like “like”, “totally”, and “rad” in pretty much every sentence. Whilst this works some of the time, it was often very over the top and stopped the otherwise great banter between the detectives flowing as well as it could have.
Some of the slang felt a bit too dated for a modern novel. Although there are references to ISIS and the war on terror that make it clear Alter Ego is set in the present day, some of the slang has a very 80s or even earlier feel to it. For example, the word ‘rad’ isn’t really used anymore. The story is set in rural Virgina so maybe that explains the characters choice of words, but if it is to be clear that the story is set in the 2000s (presumably in 2014-16) I feel more references to the present day would have been helpful, particularly more references to social media.
There are a lot of interesting characters in this story. Simone the journalist and Jack the FBI agent were strong, detailed, and memorable characters. Their conversations flowed really well, they had convincing chemistry, and they made sense as a couple. Jack and his FBI partner Blaine also had good chemistry, despite the fact that Blaine is hardly in the story.
Other characters that I found particularly interesting were the governor’s wife Mrs. Woodbine, who leaves a strong (if negative) impression even though she’s quite a minor character. I also found Burford, who is one of the villains and a standard Igor-type, quite compelling and would have liked to have learned more about his character.
Despite his overuse of certain words, Russ is by far the strongest of the three detectives. The three of them have good banter which is enjoyable to read, but the other two detectives could have benefited from stronger personalities.
I am giving this book a 3* rating. The idea, plot, and characterisation had definite potential, but the overall execution lacked polish. There are no major problems with the plot, but the content sometimes reads like a final draft rather than a finished product. With a little more editing and some more work on the dialogue, this book would definitely have got a higher rating.
If you like mystery/crime fiction, detectives, and government conspiracies, you should read this book. Whilst it is not as strong as it could have been, this is still an engaging book that you will devour quickly because you want to know how it all ends.
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