54. Ambrose Bierce & the One-Eyed Jacks by Oakley Hall
Publication: Penguin (Non-Classics) (March 30, 2004), Paperback, 224pp / ISBN 0142000140
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Read: March 2-3, 2010
Summary from Amazon:
Ambrose “Bitter” Bierce, San Francisco’s infamous and legendary newspaperman and sometime sleuth is hardly surprised to be hired by William Randolph Hearst when his mistress receives threats.
In steamy Sausalito, the playground of the rich and famous across the bay, Hearst’s isn’t the only case on the boil. While Ambrose and his sidekick, Tom Redmond, hunt the killer of a hard-partying yachtsman, Tom becomes entangled with the queen of the Portuguese Pentecostal feast. When Hearst’s house photographer turns up dead Ambrose faces a web of murder and mystery.
I bought this mostly because of the cover. Isn’t it great? And I’ve heard good things about Oakley Hall’s mysteries, so it seemed like a good purchase. Unfortunately…I didn’t enjoy reading it as much as I hoped I would.
I like the time period it takes place in. Early days of journalism is a really interesting topic, and William Randolph Hearst is a fascinating person. Even Ambrose Bierce has the potential to be interesting, especially if he’s made into a detective character. Nevertheless, these high points didn’t help me like the book any better.
As a historical novel, it’s very good. It’s a great view into what life was like in the late 19th century, including how people lived and what they thought. It’s also a good description of what journalism was like back then (hint: watch Newsies). Tom, though he annoys the crap out of me with his views on women and marriage and romance, seems like a real person. But! As a mystery, it suffers from crappy sidekick syndrome.
Yes, Tom ruined the book. I hate Tom! I hate how he doesn’t understand his girlfriend (who’s feisty and wonderful and, no, you won’t be able to control her after you marry her, you turd!), he doesn’t understand what it’s like to be an immigrant (especially a female immigrant), and he doesn’t understand that when you’re investigating a murder you need to tell the detective when you find clues. Yes! He HID CLUES FROM AMBROSE BEIRCE. Bad sidekick, bad!
I really disliked him. And because I didn’t like him I didn’t enjoy reading his narration and it pretty much ruined the book for me.
I liked everything else, really. Even though the dialogue is a bit stilted, the mystery is great and I like the secondary characters. But hating the narrator is never a good thing, and I really, really hated Tom. I would have enjoyed this much more if Ambrose Bierce himself had been narrating, you know?
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Other reviews: SparkleTack (who didn’t have the same problems with the book as I did)