Guilt by Association, Susan R. Sloan

Warner, 1995, 529 pages, C$6.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-446-60306-6

From the blurbs reprinted on the first few pages of the book:

  • ”…its climax is a tense courtroom showdown that ends on a genuine surprise” —Seattle Times
  • ”…building to a splendid and ironic surprise”—Los Angeles Times
  • ”…a conclusion that will chill you to the bone”—West Coast Review
  • “What are they smoking on the west coast?”—Christian Sauvé

As a thriller reader, I want to be entertained. If I can’t be entertained I want to be informed. If I can’t be informed, at least surprise me. And if you, as a thriller writer, can’t do any of these three, you might as well pack your things, stay home and stop writing novels because it’s not worth the time to read your stuff.

The back cover of Susan R. Sloan’s Guilt by Association promises a good story. Thirty years after being brutally raped, a woman takes revenge upon her aggressor, now running for the White House. Okay, sure, fine, sounds interesting, let’s see it.

Now, a competent thriller writer would have immediately seen that the story in here is the revenge. Not the rape nor the aftermath of it, but the payback. Three hundred pages, a well-deserved conclusion, end of book and everyone goes home happy.

But not Sudan R. Sloan. The initial rape takes place upon twenty-eight exploitative pages. Then we’re set for nearly three hundred pages of excruciatingly long setup before our two main characters meet again to kick in the revenge story.

You see, our heroine isn’t merely raped, but utterly destroyed. Her boyfriend breaks up, her family can’t faced what happened to her, she quits school, she can’t hold a job, etc… She manages to live in a commune during the sixties and not have sex with anyone. (Obviously, that particular trauma will take pages to resolve) Page per page, we get not a thriller, but pretty much a fictional biography detailing what she does year after year in exasperating detail. Not much of this has any relevance whatsoever to the main plotline of the thriller. SKip, skip, skip pages if ever you want to remain sane. Most of the psychosocial insight in these pages is the very same stuff you can get from watching a few Discovery Channel specials on the past few decades.

During that time, of course, the antagonist has a few kick-the-puppies scenes in which he becomes even more ruthlessly evil.

When the revenge plot finally gets going, something very curious happens. After decades of obsessive details about our protagonist, the narrative skips over a few crucial hours.

Now, why would that happen? Don’t think about it. Don’t even pause to consider the question, because otherwise you’ll figure out the conclusion a hundred pages before it comes up. In fact, you don’t even need to pause for it because it’s so blindingly obvious that even the dullest thriller reader will figure it out.

As I said, if you can’t entertain or inform me…

The ultimate result is a complete mess, a thriller so undeserving of the title that the marketing department at Warners should be fined. Guilt by Association is a boring novel with nothing new to say, a terrible structure, infuriating failed emotional manipulation, an astonishingly obvious “twist” ending and a series of stupid choices made by the author. I’d burn it in a second if I didn’t want friends to believe me when I describe what may very well be the most pretentious, most boring thriller ever.

And don’t even get me started on so-called “professional” reviewers who were taken by the plot or surprised by the ending…

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