1 out of 4 stars
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Not many people can say that they begin their anniversary night with the attempted murder of their girlfriend. Unfortunately, in B-Side, written by Janis Jones, this is exactly what happens to Mara Bays, a young detective, whose girlfriend Casey's life is threatened by a mysterious stranger. While Casey survives the assault, she is left traumatized from the incident, relying on Mara for support and care. Mara instantly takes up the case to find her girlfriend's assaulter with the help of her partner, Derek Jenssen. Although the two have a romantic history, and Derek still loves Mara dearly, they are able to combine their minds and work to find Casey's potential assaulter. As the two work together on the case, Mara must balance the stress of the detective work with her home life. Constantly relying on Derek and Casey's strength, Mara devotes her time into hopefully identifying any suspect or motive in the mysterious case. The novel continues to explore how the awkward love triangle influences the relationship between the three, and how Mara can handle the stress from her partner in work and her partner in life.
Overall, B-Side is a very interesting premise with unfortunately poor execution. The story had an extreme amount of potential; it is extremely rare to find a story with the main couple originating from the LGBTQ+ community, and I respect the author's decision in creating a generally realistic couple in this image. The primary mystery also was extremely interesting, and Jones does a good job of adding suspense and unexpected twists. What I most enjoyed, however, was the interaction between Mara and Derek. Jones makes it clear from the start that the two are very close, and they interact just as one would expect from best friends. Despite these benefits in the story, there were multiple issues that need to be addressed if this novel is to gain a larger following.
First, the characters were lacking in almost any description or development. Mara comes closest to growing in her character, but even she is mostly defined by her brother's death and her protection over Casey. Derek is simply lovesick over Mara, and for being the main love interest, Casey is more of a comic relief and plot device than an important character. In general, each character could have benefitted from a page or two of more defining features. Without these important descriptions, certain characters were easily forgotten, such as Skeezy (the homeless man Casey feeds when possible), and Derek's ex-wife. While these characters were important to the story, they were easily forgotten until they came in many chapters later. This made it extremely difficult to connect to any of the characters inside the novel.
Second, the main mystery was thrown off track multiple times. Throughout the story, there are multiple breaks, including flashbacks into Mara and Derek's relationship, Mara and Casey's meeting, multiple sex scenes between Mara and Casey and an entirely new case that focuses on a child abuser and murderer. While many of these cases could be enjoyable to read about (beyond the sex scenes, which were overall unnecessary and excessive in such a short novel), there was absolutely no description included in these scenes outside of the most basic information. For instance, Derek and Mara's relationship would have benefitted from the extra interaction that could have come while they worked on the child abuse case. Instead, the relationship was shoved to the side, and the case was virtually forgotten after two chapters. It is moments like these that would have elevated the story to the next level but were simply lacking in description, and only kept the reader away from the main plot.
Beyond just this, the biggest issue I have with the book is how unlike a novel it feels. The book is clearly designed to be a screenplay and Jones could succeed in the future by continuing it that way. However, if it is going to be completely converted into a novel, the book needs more description and more character development. With more pages, the novel could explore the nuances of each person's character and could build the relationships to make them more believable. Also, the editing style is clearly portrayed still as a screenplay. If it is going to be kept in the present tense, then the direct actions need to be removed. As of right now, the direct actions lead to a feeling of simply showing the scene and not telling what has potential to be a beautiful story. It would also help to remove the italicized sections in the formatting, as it is clear to differentiate Mara's thoughts without them.
In the end, I rate this novel 1 out of 4 stars. In addition to all of the errors listed above, there were also multiple grammatical and editorial issues that most likely occurred due to the transition from a screenplay. These included commas misplaced or missing, randomly italicized words and multiple lines of dialogue occurring in one run-on sentence. If I were to recommend this novel to anyone, I would say that any adult who has an interest in detective stories but does not care much about the characters themselves may enjoy this novel. However, if you care even remotely about character development in a novel or are looking for a romantic mystery, this is not a novel I would recommend. There is also a significant amount of crude language and sexual scenes, so I would keep this novel away from young eyes. While there is good potential for this storyline, the way that the author executed the writing is just too sloppy and basic, and at this point, I can only recommend it to a small group of people.
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