A few weeks ago I picked up a book in one of those shops that sell unsold items at very low prices. The book was only worth a few dollars, but the title attracted my attention and it had been published by Harper Collins, so I thought it couldn’t be that bad. The title of the book was created and written in a way to deceive people and make them believe they were buying a book from Sidney Sheldon, the well-known writer. If you went below the title however (Sidney Sheldon’s Angel of the Dark) you could see another name, Tilly Bagshawe, the real author. Everything about that method is cheap. Never mind, I started reading the book, supposed to be based on notes left by Sheldon when he died in 2007. The plot is good and the story starts well enough. In a nutshell, this is about a series of weird murders in which en elderly man is savagely murdered while his young wife is raped and left alive by his side. The murders take place around the world, and a number of individuals, one from Interpol and a useless comedy writer, set on a search for the killer. As I said, the plot is okay, until the end that is. The last part of the book is boring – a trial – and the ending so preposterous it made me cringe. You very quickly can’t stand the main character, the comedy writer. As for the writing, it’s all right most of the time, but sometimes you come across repetitions and gems such as (p. 222) “He was as Indian as the Taj Mahal.” Such trite similes should simply be banned from literature.
The worst, for me, started with Chapter Thirteen, which takes place in Hong Kong. This is a fine example of how easily you can lose credibility with your readers, something all writers learn very early on in their careers. If what you write is false or simply wrong, your credibility is gone – and it doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or not. With me having lived in Hong Kong, Bagshawe didn’t stand a chance, but had she done basic research, she would have been fine. The underground system in Hong Kong (probably the best in the world in terms of efficiency, network and cleanliness) is called the MTR (Mass Transit Railway)… and it becomes the DLR in the novel. But the worst is to come. I will only give two examples. The first one reads, “Lan Kwai Fong, the nightlife quarter and red-light district, glittered and screamed and stank, its narrow streets packed with some of the weirdest specimens humankind has to offer: juggling midgets, armless dancers, blind transvestite hookers and the ubiquitous, wide-eyed U.S. servicemen on shore leave, drinking it all.” Anyone who knows Hong Kong would scream with laughter when reading these words. Lan Kwai Fong is vile, I agree, but it is a modern street with bars like those you can find anywhere in the world – like Los Angeles or London where the author lives – and, on Saturday nights when it becomes rowdy and full of drunk people, mostly expats. None of the weird specimens described here. It is as normal as it gets. One paragraph further down and you find, “In New York and London, shopping streets were crowded. Here they were overrun, infested, alive with humanity like a rotting corpse riddled with maggots.” I had to read this several times to make sure I had read well. Is Bagshawe really comparing Hong Kongese with maggots? This has to be the most racist, wrong and offensive thing I have read in a long time. She should be banned from writing and Harper Collins should change editors. Honestly!