Book Review – Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys

JackAbsolute I met C.C. Humphries at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association conference in July 2010.  he’s a tall, engaging man, with a passion for stage and story.  He did the keynote on one of the nights of the conference, and as a volunteer for the conference, I had the opportunity to speak with him a few times in the hallway or at the front desk.

I’m a big, big fan of historical fiction writers like Bernard Cornwell (Sharpe’s Rifles, Lord of the North, etc.) and CS Forester (Horatio Hornblower).  I love swashbuckling tales that teach me a little history, and tell manly-men stories.

I haven’t spent too much of my life learning about the American Revolution (where the story of Jack Absolute is set), so when I bought this book and had Mr. Humphries autograph it, I had high hopes that it would follow in the tradition of Forester and Cornwell, but teach me about an era that somehow fell through the cracks of my education.  In the end, Jack Absolute was a little disappointing.

I should also say, that at the time I was reading this, I was working my butt off editing my own novel, and it’s hard to switch out of editor mode.  One of the things I was guilty of in my book was using passive voice.  Luckily the free-lance editor I hired to look at my manuscript pointed this out to me, and I spent the better part of a month ripping out occurrences of ‘was’ and ‘had’.  I don’t think Humphries ever got that advice from an editor.  What’s weird is that some chapters were almost completely devoid of passive voice, while others absolutely drowned in it.   My poor wife had to listen to me grunt every time I read a paragraph laced with ‘was’ after ‘was’. 

The plot wasn’t bad, but the dialog suffered from overuse of clichés, too much localized dialect, and one line straight out of a James Bond movie (Goldfinger, I think).  The history of the era took an unfortunate backseat to the involvement of theatre in the story.  I understand that Humphries is a Shakespearean actor, and some of the history of the stage is interesting, but part of writing is to know your audience, and the people reading stories of rogues and battles are unlikely to appreciate the theatre quite as much.  Yes, it is integral to the plot, but it probably shouldn’t have been.  It seemed too contrived.

I really, really wanted to like this book.  But sadly, I just couldn’t, and I was disappointed that I hadn’t found another ‘go to’ author to read when my shelf was empty.

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