Book review: The Mark

Let me sum up Jason Pinter’s The Mark in two words: unbelievable, derivative.

It’s a thriller that really doesn’t thrill much. The main character, Henry Parker, is a reporter with his first shot at the big leagues — working at a New York City daily. Here’s the first unbelievable part: Henry’s supposed to be enough of a hotshot reporter that he gets scooped up from his small-town paper to a major newspaper. And yet his naivete’ is appalling. Most reporters lose that particular cherry in their first couple of weeks on the job — says the former newspaper reporter/editor.

Another thing: We watch Henry pay for six months’ rent in advance on a roach-pad apartment in Manhattan. I’m sorry — I KNOW what small-town newspaper salaries are like. I also know what Henry’s past was supposedly like. There’s no way he had that much money saved. Small-town papers pay a pittance — just enough to get by. Rarely enough to save money, at least if you want a higher standard of living than a third-world country.

And that’s just the start. Henry’s partner-in-danger, Amanda Davies, acts in ways that are not believable at all. And then there are the stock bad guys — villains that ought to be wearing top hats and twirling their mustaches. There’s the stock “good cop with a drinking problem” … there’s the stock double-cross near the end. The plot is derivative. This is a book from a guy obviously in his 20s — someone who hasn’t lived life very much.

Of course, then you find out that Pinter is an editor with a major publishing house, and it’s suddenly very easy to see how this derivative crap got published. The more I read, the more I realize how much publishing is about who you know — about making those personal connections — than it really is about talent. Of course, Pinter has written four more of these things, so maybe he’s gotten better. I’m not saying he’s the worst writer I’ve ever read. He’s got some nice ideas, and he’s got a quirky sense of humor that comes through. But neither of those is enough to rescue this book. And neither of those is enough to make me want to pick up another book by him.

Jason Pinter is living proof that you don’t need writing talent to get published. If you see The Mark on your local bookstore’s shelves, don’t just leave it there. Run the hell the other way.

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