2 out of 4 stars
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A brilliant designer with a host of demons. A business tycoon with a crushing guilt. An investment broker with questionable morals. A physical therapist with a dark side. These men and more inhabit the pages of Roy Ziegler’s Requiem for Riley, in the literary equivalent of a detective’s wall plastered with photos and newspaper clippings, all connected in a tangled mass of yarn. As the story unfolds, so do the relationships between the characters, and they find themselves working together in unexpected ways to get through the conflicts that each of them face.
The book’s synopsis pegs it as a suspense novel focusing on one of the characters and his quest for a fragment of a Mozart manuscript. I feel that this is a little misleading. While there was some mystery to the story, it felt far more like a piece of literary fiction, centered on the lives and thoughts of this group of interconnected characters.
Regardless of the genre, though, I didn’t really enjoy the novel as a whole, and I have to rate it 2 out of 4 stars.
First, what I did like. Ziegler’s ‘wall of photos and yarn’ is very well-constructed. Every character had a detailed backstory, and their relationships were layered and nuanced. Their loyalties, promises, and grudges were the focus of the story, and I couldn’t wait to finish the book so I could see how they all panned out. Each character’s journey was super interesting, and the plot managed to jump back and forth between all the different players without feeling disconnected or confusing the reader.
The issue that knocked two stars off of this book’s rating, though, is the writing. Ziegler consistently tells instead of showing, leading to matter-of-fact prose that has less emotional impact than a newspaper article. Here’s an excerpt featuring the two main characters, Matt and Leo, right after they get into a car wreck that totals their vehicle and leaves them stranded on the side of the highway:
With some more powerful description and vivid word choice, I would have been on the edge of my seat. Instead, the bland narration kept me from really getting invested in the characters and their plight.Leo limped slightly.
“Are you … what’s wrong with your leg?”
“It got jammed against the dash. I think it’s okay. How about you?”
“Oh my aching ego! I think it’s badly damaged.”
“Hey, Matt, it’s not your fault. That bus shouldn’t have been in the left lane—and I can’t understand why he had stopped so suddenly.”
I was also less-than-impressed with the dialogue. All the characters speak with a distracting formality, as if they’d written their lines beforehand and practiced them in the mirror. Adding to the scripted feeling was the fact that most of the conversation took place in a vacuum – long streams of dialogue without any narration or description to break them up. I wish the author had interspersed more detail. I wanted to know what the characters were doing and feeling as they spoke. The unnatural dialogue took a toll on the occasional sexy scenes as well, rendering them awkward and faintly uncomfortable instead of erotic.
Requiem for Riley has its redeeming qualities, but it’s certainly not a suspense novel, and not a book I’d recommend to most of my friends. The well-crafted plot saves it from a one-star rating, and I’d still tentatively recommend it to diehard lovers of literary fiction, especially if the thought of unraveling a web of friendships and secrets sounds like something you’d enjoy. If you’re looking for the thriller that the synopsis promises, though, I’d look elsewhere.
Requiem for Riley
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