“Cold Compass” – by Barry Napier

Cover Image“I have been instructed by those above me to allow you one last chance to change your mind. I am offering you that option now. If you want out, just say so. But after you leave this office and I make a call, this project is officially underway.”

With one word, Gabe Warren has committed himself to a secret government organisation for a purpose he doesn’t understand. All because of who he is – and who his father was.

Cold Compass is the first novel in a series about a young man whose mysterious background makes him important to a covert government operation investigating “disturbances”. The story leaves the details deliciously up in the air, dropping breadcrumbs for the reader to follow as the story progresses.

This is a classic television series opener. Hints of X Files, Warehouse 13, Ghost Whisperer and other programs spring to mind while reading and although the story fits a mould, this didn’t deter me at all. As a story, I thought it was worthy of some time investment.

The novel includes the opening case, the introduction of a mysterious antagonist and some revelations about the covert operation and Gabe Warren’s past. There were a couple of times where I felt the story structure failed a little. In the first of Gabe Warren’s supernatural encounters, a particularly tense moment was all but destroyed by the inclusion of an untimely flashback.

A potential issue I have is that what the reader doesn’t initially know, and is revealed over the course of the story, is the major selling point of the book. There is going to be significant pressure on future volumes to continue to “come up with the goods”.

Because this kicks off a series, the major players are introduced to the reader and although there are not too many surprises, there aren’t any real disappointments either.

Gabe, as the protagonist, ticks off the necessary boxes to remain interesting. He has conflicted feelings towards his scientist father, who worked on secret government operations and died, abandoning him and his mother. He has capabilities that he is only just becoming aware of and, to add drama, has authority issues. He was familiar, but in a good way – the kind of character I like observing in different situations.

The head of his little team and Gabe’s CIA bodyguard make up a trio and it looks like there’s reasonable scope for exploring each of them more over a series of stories. I was happy with the development of these characters.

There’s also an antagonist and it looks like he’s probably going to remain the nemesis of our heroes, providing the larger story arc for the series. I liked this character in that not too much was revealed, leaving plenty of scope. He was also genuinely creepy.

Unfortunately, although I rather liked the plot and the characters in Cold Compass, I can not say the same for the writing. When the primary aim was the propel the plot from A to B, the narrative was effective enough if not particularly sophisticated. I don’t have an issue with simple, if it gets the job done and supports a story I want to read. However, as soon as there was a need to intensify mood or illustrate a scene more fully, the author fell short with clunky prose that often made me wince.

I constantly felt that in the more descriptive passages, the need to illustrate outweighed the need for the words to make sense. Unfortunately, not observing the latter disrupts the success of the former. I felt like it was left to me to pick up the pieces and reconstruct the image the author intended. This might make for an interesting writing exercise, but does nothing for me as a reader.

Cold Compass was, for me, a fairly solid story with serviceable characters that were let down by ineffective prose. In the end, the writing transformed something that should have been largely enjoyable into hard work.

Not everyone places the same level of importance on the writing when compared to the story being told. This is a reasonable position to take and those who feel like this might not suffer from the same level of disappointment. However, for those who treat effective prose as a key to the success of a story, I don’t think this novel is going to bring satisfaction.

Rating: 2.5/5

Price at the time of review: $3.99 US

Available: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobo, Diesel, iTunes and moreā€¦

Author site: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2995603.Barry_Napier
GoodReads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13415810-everything-theory

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