Character Overload

Death on Lake Michigan by Steve Arnett is a 225-page 13-chapter mystery novel published in 2015. On the one hand I found it to be a good example of linear interesting storytelling and on the other hand, I felt uncomfortable with characters popping up just because the story needed a character to supply a small bit of needed information. I felt there were too many unneeded characters in the story.

Mike O’Brien is a small-town newspaper reporter who will become a sort of investigative lead in the murder of a towns’ acknowledged drug runner, Rich Mallon. I was happy to run across O’Brien’s name on page 15 after being introduced to a plethora of other names but never the name of the protagonist. Mike is the teller of this tale. Other characters do not tell the story. When they appear and perform some function, Mike is there to tell what happened and why. This causes a lot of “I writing and while this may come off well in an oral presentation, it is not exciting in a written form.

In the first fifteen pages, before Mike O’Brien is identified, the reader meets Clara Whitman, Heather McGyver, Wilbur Switzler, Dan Dillon, Rick Weldon, Hank Wilkens, Red Garrity, and Buck Matthews. The last one served the function of an old guy that knew everybody and everything along with their histories. Except for Buck, all the other characters were introduced before page fifteen and I didn’t read much of them again. There were further forgettable and non-contributing characters as I learned the names of partygoers who knew nothing of the murdered Rich, who himself had more than one name.

To sum up, I was overwhelmed by inconsequential characters. As I read a novel, I highlight character names to make it easy for me to comment on important characters as I write a review. In this novel, I had a lot of character names highlighted that were worth no comment.

There was a minor surprise at the end. The guilty party was dumb beyond belief. I was just happy to be able to fix a name to a character and arrive at the end of the story. When a mysterious caller supplied yet more clues to the mystery in an anonymous call in chapter 13, I feared yet another character was going to be introduced.

I consider this a “seed” novel. There are enough situations that revolve around characters introduced in the novel to power short stories and possibly even their own novel. The number of characters in this work contributed to unneeded density and led me to give it three Amazon stars.

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