Author: John Scalzi
Published By: Audible
Narrated By: Zachary Quinto
Hardcover Published By: Subterranean
Page Count: 128 Pages
Run Time: 2 Hours, 18 Minutes
Release Date: October 4th, 2016 (Audio), May 31st, 2017 (Hardcover)
Half-baked is the best description I could give this book.
Initially, I was really excited for ‘The Dispatcher’. It had very positive reviews, the opening chapters were really strong, and the premise seemed to play into the genre in an incredibly interesting way! Everything seemed to be going my way! How could I not love this?!
Well… there are a myriad of reasons. The beginning is incredibly solid, but it quickly falls apart. The ending is incredibly unsatisfying, the themes are half-baked at best, no character undergoes any meaningful growth or development and the world of the story hadn’t changed at all! The whole story was simply… pointless! It’s a total mess! Where do I start?!
Plot: A World Without Murder… At Least Not Permanent Murder
This seems like the best place to start.
In this world, murder is not permanent. For reasons unknown, when people are killed by anything other than themselves or natural causes, they simply return home. There is only a single chance in a thousand for them to stay dead.
Tony Valdez has lived his life as a Dispatcher, someone who puts people down in order to save them. But when his long time co-worker vanishes, Tony is dragged/blackmailed/bribed by a police officer into helping find him. Along the way, he must learn… nothing, apparently.
This premise could have been gold! A mystery story in a world where murder doesn’t always stick?! Sign me up, that sounds amazing! Unfortunately, while the premise is explored in a few nice ways, the characters are horribly neglected and the story is poorly paced.
None of the character’s are exceptionally interesting. Their personalities are about as flat as paper. None of them have any personal investment in the mystery aside from “It’s my job” or “I’m being forced to do it”. The single most interesting character is an old woman that we never meet because she’s dead before the story even starts! At no point do any of them grow, make mistakes, or even make new friends through the journey. They are stagnant; they are the same at the end as they are at the beginning.
This isn’t helped by the rapid pacing of the story. Almost immediately after meeting the first suspect, the main character gets some insight and finds the kidnapper out to be… the first suspect. No chasing clues, no juggling suspects, nothing. It can hardly be described as a mystery, with how quickly it ends.
This all could have been alleviated had more time been given. Time to develop the characters and mystery. But there is no such time. The story is just over two hours long, when it really should have been four to six hours.
The audience isn’t going anywhere. At least they shouldn’t be. But we’ll get to that in the ‘Voice’ section. First, we need to get through…
Production: An Actor With All of Three Distinct Voices
Sorry Zachary Quinto. But you and the book are coming off of Jack Black and The Island’s production values, you’re going to suffer a bit. My personal bar has been raised.
Not to say Quinto is bad. When he does give a character a unique voice, it helps that character stand out and come alive. Though the ability to do so is limited, given the writing. The problem is that there are very few characters with such voices. A lot of them just blend together.
Aside from that, there’s nothing to talk about. At no point is music or sound effects used to create extra depth to the production. It’s a standard audio book.
Voice: Random Details at Random Times
Typically in these sections, I tend to praise authors for having a voice that is minimalistic, yet manage to paint a clear image. That’s just the kind of writing that resonates with me. Unfortunately, John Scalzi doesn’t walk that line.
He does very little to paint a picture in the reader’s head. Too little, in fact. I didn’t have a clear or muddy picture of anyone or anything, save some random details here and there. Ninety-five percent of the book is dialogue, and the other five is descriptive detail. A story, especially a mystery, should have more than that.
The dialogue isn’t much better. A very large portion of it is exposition that explains how the world works and information regarding the characters. Almost none of it is delivered in an interesting or engaging way. Rather than experiencing the story, it is simply exposited at you.
I haven’t been this disappointed with a book in a long while. The premise seemed like solid gold, especially for a mystery novel. But it is simply too underdeveloped for it to be interesting.
Sadly, I can’t recommend this book. It’s simply too boring and undercooked. It could have been brilliant. But it simply left me wanting more, and not in a good way.
If you want a good mystery, go read an Agatha Cristie book. Those are the golden standards for the genre, even to this day. I wouldn’t bother with this one.