From the synopsis, I assumed that this book was going to be a bit of a thriller with the murder of Beckman starting off a series of events leading to some horrifying discovery, but this book really wasn't a thriller at all. In fact, I felt like it was mainly a summary of a horrifying discovery that skimmed the surface, but was never really taken as far as it could have gone. Granted the eventual discovery is horrifying, but this plot really needed some help with its structure and development. It took a good 20% of the book for the author to establish that Garth and Zoe had some opposition in their goal of rehabilitating the city, and I just don't think that's really where the story should have started. It feels like things finally picked up with Josh's discovery of Beckman's past, but these discoveries were easy to come by.
What makes a story really sparkle is conflict. So-and-so wants something more than anything, and the obstacles preventing this character from getting it, and the actions the characters take in order to overcome said obstacles, are what make for exciting story lines. These obstacles were mentioned and then virtually disappeared as if everyone had their own genie in a bottle handling the obstacles for them. Examples:
1.) Josh is able to get two incriminating videos by shelling out money. Videos that are his ticket to freedom from Beckman. How could this have been more compelling? By not giving the character what he wants right away. Make Josh figure out how to get the videos from someone reluctant to give them to him. Or perhaps the guy he sent to get them sees what's on there and decides the info is too good to hand over to Josh. He can get a much higher price in a different way. Josh needs to confront these obstacles himself. Beat your character up a little. Don't hand him all the answers right away.
2.) Zoe and Garth want to continue the project they've been working on. The new mayor is in Beckman's pocket and has become a huge obstacle. Suddenly, a friend makes that obstacle go away. How would this have been more compelling? Zoe and Garth could have uncovered who was paying the mayor and figured out how best to leverage that information to get what they wanted. They need to confront their own problems and solve them.
3.) Josh has the videos and can use them to get Beckman out of his life, and suddenly Beckman is killed. Another obstacle that is taken care of far too easily. Not that it wasn't great to have those kids take out Beckman since the guy was evil incarnate, but why spend so much time on the videos when they can't be used to impact the story in a much more significant way?
These are just a few examples of things panning out immediately when a problem is presented. Authors need to ask themselves why a reader should care for a character. Why present problems when they are so easily resolved. There simply isn't much of a story to tell when you do that.
My suggestion: Start the story with Beckman's death, with the kids being held for questioning in his murder. Keep Josh as the one whose POV the story is told from. (There was so much head jumping in this, making it unclear which characters were truly important, and hindering some much needed character development.) He goes to the station compelled to help these kids so he can figure out why they killed his employer, almost feeling indebted to them for helping him deal with his worrisome association with Beckman. That's the only way having someone else take care of his problem actually works because we're just barely finding out it actually was a problem.
Then take it from there. He meets Zoe as he begins to unravel this mystery behind Beckman's murder, and together they fight to save Lech, the kid who killed Beckman. They not only help this project go forward, but discover the video's, the bodies etc. all the while Zoe and Josh become targets of Beckman's mother (unbeknownst to them) who knew all about her son's sadistic, disgusting habits and will stop at nothing to keep this knowledge from getting out. Zoe and Josh's relationship can grow throughout all of this conflict, adding a small romantic element that enhances the experience due to more tension throughout the book.
This idea really hit home to me when the author had Zoe and Josh taking a grand tour of Garth and Zoey's possible new home in great detail. It was so obvious that Josh and Zoe should have been together at that point. I was throwing my hands up in the air. Why spend several pages developing their bond when so few pages were spent developing Zoe and Garth's?
Cut Garth out completely. He was likable, but I just didn't see his relevance in this story when it was so clear that Josh and Zoe had some serious chemistry going on, and this idea that they could all be friends when they all knew Josh loved Zoe just wasn't believable. In a perfect world, maybe, but again the idea of them being friends would have been more believable if Zoe harbored feelings for Josh, but was doing her best to remain true to Garth. That's the only compelling reason for keeping Garth in the story because it would add a dimension of conflict in everyone's relationships with one another. One more obstacle to work through.
One more thing I would have liked was more dialogue. A lot of scenes played out like a synopsis instead of playing the scene out with actual dialogue and orchestration. When you skip those things it prevents the reader from connecting with the characters and getting a feel for the mood of the scene. Dialogue is only one of many tools in an author's arsenal for developing character and plot. Use it when you can.
This author has so much potential, but a developmental editor would have helped the author pick apart these plot threads and structural issues. I found the premise so promising. It just needs some serious tweaking. I hope my critiques have helped the author and any potential readers.
I gave it three stars on Amazon because I didn't want to bring the author's average down too far, but honestly I can only give this book 2 cherry blossoms! It was just so difficult to get through.
Deep in my heart I'm a cowboy. I live on acreage surrounded by fresh fields and oak filled woods,along with a grumpy husband and an old Shitzu with warts, (the last of my beloved animals after the loss of my horse Di, my friend of 36 years). My son (Mr. Wonderful) lives on the far side of the woods keeping a proper distance from parents with well intentioned suggestions.