Life hasn’t been easy for Jake Cramer since his return from the military. Minus a leg and left with wounds that go far deeper than the surface, Jake is slowly healing thanks to his family and his work in their construction business. When Jake goes to meet a prospective new client, he finds the man unconscious, the victim of a vicious attack.
Alex Ford is one of the world’s foremost architects, but he returns to the small town of his childhood intending to restore a mansion to its former glory. Instead, he’s bashed over the head and rescued by his contractor. Alex’s attraction to Jake Cramer is intense and immediate, but both men have their scars and the road to romance is far from easy. As Jake and Alex tentatively start to explore their feelings, they must deal with a rash of violent crimes, all involving the mansion they are trying to renovate. And when the violence escalates to murder, Jake and Alex are left scrambling to stay alive while they try to discover who wants them dead.
I love a pun, I admit. But like so much of What the Carpenter Saw, the title was just too on the nose. I wanted to enjoy this book, but very little of it held up under review. Certainly the plot had potential and the romance between Alex and Jake was sweet if somewhat awkward at times, but things drop off from there. Beyond the basic storyline, the plot is uneven and doesn’t make much sense. There are several narrative gaps that never get resolved and at times the characters’ actions seem absurd. For example, following a murder the police allow Jake and Alex to wander all over the crime scene on multiple occasions. In another instance, Alex’s condo is sold using a fraudulent signature, despite the fact multiple people involved with the transaction should have known something was wrong. Situations like this just lacked any measure of common sense and left me frustrated and completely detached from the story.
There were times when What the Carpenter Saw struggled to establish its identity. It was part mystery, suspense, romance, and a visitors guide to a heart-warming small town. But it never fully integrated any of these pieces, which gave the overall story a jagged and unconnected feeling. Some novels work on multiple levels and other soar with one basic concept, but What the Carpenter Saw couldn’t decide what it wanted to be and while it tried to be many things, it accomplished none of them well.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the book is the stilted dialogue written between the characters. The conversational text lacked any natural rhythm or flow. The cadence often felt forced and, at times, almost robotic. As a result, the interactions between the characters never really worked. Odd word choices or extraneous dialogue added to the whole problem. Here is an example; Jake has removed his shirt to use a pressure bandage.
“…But you’re right. I do need to go home and clean up and get another shirt.”
“So that’s why Tyler was looking at you so amorously.”
The word “amorously” just doesn’t work. I even tried to say it aloud, to see if I was reading it wrong, but it feels too formal and stiff. Part of the issue, I think, is that because the characters fail to connect, their dialogue doesn’t either. So phases or words that might fit in a different context, tend to stand out like sore thumbs here.
I really struggled with What the Carpenter Saw because I hate to give a book a bad review. I know the author poured a lot of work into this book and as a reviewer you don’t want to dismiss that. But while What the Carpenter Saw had an interesting premise and a romance that worked on a basically enjoyable level, numerous other flaws crippled whatever potential it may have had. An uneven plot and stiff narrative dialogue left the novel with limited depth and emotional resonance. I’d have to recommend giving this one a pass.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.