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BY NICO VREELAND

Douglas Preston is a jerk and an author who gets his jollies by viciously insulting his readers, and then continuing to insult them.

I’ve ranted twice about Preston in the past two weeks, and I’ve called him a hack more than once. I wanted to see just how good or bad a writer he is, so I borrowed one of his ebooks (Riptide) from the library. Turns out he’s pretty bad, and I’m going to show you exactly why. This probably won’t be the last time I make fun of Preston, but considering he still hasn’t apologized for insulting his readers (and pretty much all readers of ebooks), he’s got some insults coming his own way.

The point of this isn’t (just) to mock Preston because he’s a hypocritical, self-righteous blowhard who’s trying to exploit his readers instead of appreciating them. It’s also to put the lie to Preston’s comments about how readers don’t want to pay “the real price” for his books. Going by these passages, his readers are, in fact, significantly overpaying.

(This book, and most of Preston’s, are co-written by Lincoln Child, who didn’t insult his own readers. But he did sign off on this insultingly condescending open letter, so he’s guilty of at least aiding and abetting.)

Let’s have some fun.

The novel opens with a bang. Here’s the first line of Chapter 1:

Malin Hatch was bored with summer.

I’m bored with this book. Already.

Here’s the opening of Chapter 2, starring a small, contemplative laboratory (and costarring a whole bunch of bland adjectives):

The small laboratory looked out from the Mount Auburn Hospital annex across the leafy tops of the maple trees to the slow, sullen waters of the Charles River. A rower in a needle-like shell was cutting through the dark water with powerful strokes, peeling back a glittering wake.

Here’s a throwaway line that reads like Bulwer-Lytton wrote a Laffy Taffy wrapper:

“You must have been as disappointed as the surgeon who hopes for a tumor and finds gallstones.”

OK, let’s play a game. One of these characters is a sea captain. The other is a research scientist. Guess which is which!

Character 1’s dialogue:

“If we’re to be partners—an ever-receding possibility—we’ll have to trust each other.”

“Invisible ink? You’ve been reading too many Hardy Boys stories.”

“Don’t tell me you believe such a mossy old legend.”

Character 2’s dialogue:

“Ever been to Houndsbury? It’s a charming little town, very Cotswolds, but all in all rather unremarkable I suppose, if it weren’t for its exquisite cathedral.”

“I’ve restricted myself to maps and surveys.”

“Why does it remain fogbound?”

If you said Character 1 was the research scientist, you’re right! If you said it doesn’t matter because the authors put as little effort into dialogue as possible, you get a bonus point!

Next up, here’s the winner of the “Attempt At Nostalgia That Goes Off The Rails” Award, from a scene in which the good doctor goes back to his hometown convenience store:

Hatch inhaled the grocer’s scent—a mixture of ham, fish, and cheese—and felt both relieved and embarrassed, as if he were suddenly a boy again.

And the winner of the “Wait, That’s Supposed To Be Funny?” Award:

“One other thing, Malin.”

Hatch froze. He knew he’d gotten off too easily. He waited, dreading the question he knew was coming.

“You watch out with that licorice,” Bud said with great solemnity. “Those teeth won’t last forever, you know.”

Here’s an example from the “Why Write Good Dialogue When The Narrator Can Just Explain It?” file:

“And how’s your mother?” Bud asked.

“She passed away in 1985. Cancer.”

“Sorry to hear that.” Hatch could tell Bud meant it.

And one from the “Why Have The Narrator Explain It When We Can Put It In Awkward, Expository Dialogue?” file:

“The dinghy’s at the dock,” Hatch said. “But we’re not going to land. There’s no natural harbor. Most of the island is ringed with high bluffs, so we wouldn’t be able to see much from the rocks anyway. And the bulk of the island is too dangerous to walk on.”

And the “Just In Case You Were Too Stupid To Get It The First Time” file (this is twelve pages after the above passage):

“There’s no natural harbor,” Hatch replied. “The place is surrounded by reefs, and there’s a wicked tiderip.”

And the “Makes Sense Until You Think About It For A Second” Award winner:

But the intention fell away unpursued.

The “Yup, That’s What Color Wood Is” Award winner:

As he approached, he could see it was an antique fireboat, built of rich brown wood

The “This Dude Has Boring, Meaningless Thoughts” Award:

Probably a Thalassa boat, he thought, swinging up from Portland.

The “That’s One Pretentious Freaking Sea Captain” Award:

“There are some who say there is no treasure at the bottom of the Water Pit. To those doubters, I say: Gaze upon this.

The “And The Ground Over There Is Lava, Tee Hee Hee” Award:

Ahead stretched an unbroken mass of sawgrass and fragrant tea roses, swaying in the breeze, concealing the deadly ground below. … It’s suicide to run across there, he thought even as his legs began to move and he was crashing through the brush

OK, that’s about enough of this nonsense. Clearly Preston has a tenuous at best grasp on the English language. And this is all from the first 20% of one novel. He’s got another dozen novels out there in the world.

I’ll get to those soon.

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