Red Pen Critique

I am admittedly milking my review of the pair of books that were recommended to me. The more I think about them, the more I recognize the need to share. For the sake of a 3 Sentence Review, I kept the original post brief and vague. Today I want to delve a little deeper into those two novels.

The Perfect Marriage, by Jeneva Rose, was published in 2020, The Locked Door, by Freida Mc Fadden, in 2021, a year apart, yet awfully similar in format and style. Interesting to me, both titles were self-published. One through a hybrid publisher, the other independently. Regardless of my thoughts on the novels, the fact that they are getting so much attention gives me hope for finding a broader audience myself.

In my review, I stated that despite iffy characters and unrealistic plots, I thought the novels were good enough and if suspense and thriller are in your wheelhouse, then you should read them.

What I didn’t say is that if I had provided either one of those manuscripts to my critique groups, they would have marked the shit out of my pages. Red pen everywhere. An ink explosion of constructive commentary. Yet, not only are both of these books best sellers, topping their respective charts, they also have thousands of positive reviews AND personal recommendations.

I know I’m a critical reader, and you probably don’t read as critically as I do, which is why I said go ahead and check out those books. And please do so before you continue reading this post.


Seriously, if you want to read these titles and haven’t yet, bookmark this post for later perusal.


Okay, here goes…
You were warned…
Despite listening to this on audio and being completely put off by the awful narration, there were plenty of other issues I had with The Locked Door. For MAJOR starters, the main character, Nora, finds a fresh puddle of blood in her basement. We’re never really told much about the size or location, but it’s fresh because the stray cat that darted downstairs is lapping at it. Repeatedly. Lapping. Nora kinda wonders where it came from, but not enough to actually FIND OUT, she wipes it up and adds cleaning products to her shopping list. AND WE NEVER REVISIT THE PUDDLE OF BLOOD IN HER BASEMENT AGAIN.

Nora does, however, spend more time telling this stray cat what a great person she is, nothing like her, ahem, serial killer father, than she does in discussion with the detective. I kid you not. We get more about this cat’s dietary choices than we do any actual investigating.

I’m sure the narrator influenced my dislike of the main character, but there’s also the fact that the main character is dislikable. A sad sack of self-isolation and self-pity, she has no friends, has been voluntarily abstinent for ten years, and when she does run into an old boyfriend, she doesn’t recognize him, refuses to give him her phone number, has sex with him, avoids him, plans a future with him and then, the daughter of a serial killer, freaks out when she discovers he hasn’t been completely honest with her.

And seriously, she repeats the line about her father being a serial killer ALL THE TIME. In case we forgot? I’m just saying, my beta-readers would have noticed and commented.

Don’t even get me started on the whole rotting hand in the trunk of her car scene.

In The Perfect Marriage, which it is not, by the way, and as described, never really was, there is a scene where the husband touches his lover intimately, commenting on how she’s always ready for him, heh heh, but he has to get going (home to his wife). BUT HIS MISTRESS IS ALREADY DEAD! And covered in blood from 30+ stab wounds. And, seriously, that wetness, probably ain’t from the aid of KY, yet, he never sees blood. No red on his fingertips, no darkness on the sheets. This is early in the book and it threw me off. My people would be like, first of all, ew, is that necessary? But mostly, uh, blood smears. Especially wet blood.

The biggest flaw with The Perfect Marriage, other than the title, isn’t even the implausible fact that his wife is his defense attorney, but that the timeline really doesn’t work. Alibis are established but never questioned and they just don’t fit. I kept waiting for an explanation, but it never came. Then there was the part where the husband escapes from custody. He doesn’t even really escape, he just kind of walks out. Oh, no. Red circle, slash, arrow.

I realize, there’s no such thing as an immaculate publication. I pick on these details because I notice. I notice and I think, there’s NO WAY my people would have let me get away with that. Honestly, this is how I process stories now. It can be rough to read for pleasure.

Writing is hard. I’m grateful for my vigilant extra eyes and their meticulous red pens.

About Mary Fran Says

I am an artist, crafter, designer and writer. I enjoy working with mixed media-- applying visual and tactile manipulations to telling a story. Not a lot of market for that, though, :), so I'm focusing on short story submissions and novel completions. Yes, plural. Lots of beginnings, too many ideas, not enough focus.
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2 Responses to Red Pen Critique

  1. Carol Kuczek says:

    The Locked Door. Nora’s discovery of a pool of blood in her basement that’s never addressed by the author boggles my mind. What a fabulous way to jump start a story. At the end of the book, my disappointment would ruin any other good points the book had to offer.

    • I hear ya’! You know both as a reader and a writer how important details are. Don’t put it in if it doesn’t serve a purpose! (The story doesn’t begin with that, it was just the first thing about the story that REALLY bugged me, lol.)

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