Review of “Family Shadows” by John Nixon (not the man who interrogated Saddam Hussein!)

Family ShadowsFamily Shadows by John Nixon

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I found “Family Shadows” when looking for a genealogical crime novel after I ran out of my favourite such series. It was a good idea for a story and, given that I find it very difficult to come up with good plots, I appreciated that. However, it was very poorly executed.

I myself had feedback on one of my 100-word pieces that said, “It didn’t read like a story; it was like reading a news report.” Now, of course, I don’t agree about my story but I do see how I can use that criticism about Family Shadows! It is as if John Nixon had this idea for a narrative and he’s basically told us what happened, rather than revealing it to us through what his protagonists do and say.

He did open the novel with a scene set in the past, but he then failed to follow through on that narrative device and dramatized none of the historical scenes. Even the dénouement is told as reported speech. It was as if he just wanted to get the story out of the way.

It is a first novel so I thought I’d go back and check out another first novel – Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s “Hiding the Past”. (Hence, my flurry of activity on his books in What I read there really increased my admiration for Mr Goodwin and showed me what could be done. Now, if only I can get an idea for a plot, I can try and emulate him and ‘show not tell’, as the instruction goes. It did however harden my resolve on “Family Secrets”. Having decided what the story was he wanted to tell, Mr Nixon would have done well to go back and think about an intriguing and thrilling way to tell it.

I also think he might then have wondered if he had quite the right characters in place to tell the story. This is quite a brutal story at heart. I didn’t think the psychology of the main characters was true to what they were being asked to experience or given what they were supposed to have done.

I did finish the book. It wasn’t that hard to read and I quite liked the main protagonist, Fiona, who was researching her step daughters’ family histories. I also liked Madeleine Porter who had a small role but is the protagonist of his next novels and I’ll give one of those a chance.

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