This novel beautifully illustrates some of the pro-est pros and the con-est cons of indie publishing. There were a lot of things about Get Used to Murder that I really liked, but I’d like to begin by admitting that some of the stuff I’m about to make fun of are things that I know I’ve been guilty of myself. Overall, I enjoyed this book, so any mockery is all in good fun. So here’s what I thought about this sci-fi adventure.
The Concept: A
In my eyes, the concept was far and away the strongest aspect of this story. The only problem was that part of the concept was for the reader not to really understand much about the concept until the later chapters. I spent half the book thinking the premise was kind of silly but not bad, but by the story’s conclusion I realized how much careful planning had gone into it and how some things that seemed lame or unnecessary actually had a strong basis in the plot.
The protagonist finds himself on a strange city (ominously referred to as simply End) floating through space in which death has been rendered temporary due to automated respawning matchines. Violence has also become commonplace since its consequences have been rendered impermanent. As our hero acclimates to his strange environment, he begins to unravel a complex mystery about the city and its origins.
I don’t think I’m doing it justice, but nonetheless, it’s actually a pretty interesting plot. There are a couple of nasty one-star reviews of this on Amazon, and I’m guessing that maybe those people didn’t finish reading. It can seem pretty amateurish at the start, but the finale shows that either a lot of meticulous design or a the very least a lot of seamless plot-hole-patching went into the creation of this story.
The Execution: D+
This is what turns people off, I think.
There’s a character issue, definitely. I didn’t find many of the characters particularly interesting, and those that were interesting were so more because they were mysterious than because they were realistic or properly fleshed out. Normally this might have bothered me, but some of it made sense, plotwise, since repeated respawns have dulled many of the characters’ emotions. But mostly it was because I started to be really curious about what End was, where it came from, and why it seemed to be broken. The story is driven by mystery instead of character, and to a certain extent, it works.
The other problem I had was some of the dialogue. There’s a kind of found-footage section in the second half of the book that begins to fill in some of the details about End. A lot of the speech in that section came off as cliché, or awkward, or blatantly expository. I was fascinated by the backstory unfolding in front of me, but I cringed at the way the backstory was presented.
The Writer’s Voice: C-
Duet seems to have a very unusual style. He has this awkward habit of using bizarre metaphors that kind of jar me out of my immersion. Here are a couple of examples:
Bolting for the weapon, my blood flying freely like cardinals in the air, I stopped thinking and let instinct rule my actions.
Well, blood is red and cardinals are red. Cardinals can fly, and his blood was flying. It’s not like the imagery is wrong. But it’s a weird thing to try to picture. Drops of blood are significantly smaller than cardinals. Cardinals don’t travel in flocks. It makes me go back and reread it to make sure I got it right.
Could it be a person? Could it be a corpse? Everything my mind coughed up was worse than the previous guess, like a Russian nesting doll set that never ends, with each doll revealed looking slightly more monstrous than the last.
He’s trying to illustrate the character’s mounting dread as he wonders what might be in the next room. It’s kind of an interesting passage that conjures up images of some truly messed-up dolls, but I feel like a solid simile shouldn’t normally require that much explanation. And there’s a kind of inherent contradiction because as the dolls get more monstrous, they also get smaller (because that’s how matryoshka dolls work) and therefore less threatening. Again, it’s not that the metaphor is wrong…it’s just weird enough to slow me down and break my focus.
Other than that, I didn’t have a problem with the writer’s voice. It’s written in first person, which I’m kind of a sucker for because I feel a lot more invested in tales that are related through the eyes of the character instead of through the eyes of an omniscient but detached narrator.
The X-Factor: B
I can’t stress enough how strong the mysteries of End are. I wondered about where the spaceship came from, what happened to the Earth it left, and how the system of respawners came to be. Plus there’s some creepy guy that lives in the big tower and there’s some kind of underground resistance movement that wants to take him down. Not to mention the even creepier guy that seems to know something but spends most of his time psychologically torturing our hero.
I’m not sure if this was intentional, but I noticed some interesting connections between the creepy guy in the tower and, well…God. It made for some interesting symbolism and a possible theme about an inscrutable and arguably indifferent creator and whether his authority over his people is deserved.
The ending is also very strong, if a little rushed. It all came together nicely and it was very satisfying without seeming contrived.
Get Used to Murder has a lot of flaws but shows an insane amount of promise, in my opinion. As far as I can tell, it’s a first novel, and it’s not uncommon for that kind of thing to be kind of obvious, especially for self-published writers. But with a concept this solid, the help of a few beta readers, and some more thorough editing, a second edition could be pretty damn good. And if Phillip Duet decides to publish another book, I’ll be interested to check it out.