Crime fiction, at its best, can be nail bitingly tense. It can reveal profound truths about human nature. It can bring shock and horror and comfort at the same time. That all, of course, assumes the novel you’re reading is actually any good. Eeny Meeny, as you might suspect, is not one of these books.
In hindsight, the title probably should’ve clued me in on that.
The plot in a nutshell: a crazed psychopath kidnaps two people at a time and leaves them to die of hunger and thirst, with only a gun with a single bullet and a simple message: one will only be released after they kill the other.
Eeny Meeny is the first novel in what would later become the Helen Grace series. I quite like crime fiction series. I do not like Helen Grace. She’s not exactly a Mary Sue, but only because she’s a grouch. No, Helen Grace is a certified Tough Chick(™): cracks every case, rides a motorcycle, don’t need no man and is the only one (I repeat: the only one) who can solve these cases.
The central mystery is kind of dumb on its own, with many what-ifs (what if one victim chooses to commit suicide? What if the bullet misses?), but there are so many subplots that don’t really go anywhere: a corrupt coworker whose exact plans and motivations Arlidge didn’t feel the need to flesh out, a budding relationship with a BDSM sex worker that was seemingly added just to make it a bit more salacious to the average Daily Mail reader. A significant part of the novel had me yelling THAT IS NOT HOW THAT WORKS. There’s taking liberties to move the plot forward, and there’s just lazy writing.
All of that I could deal with, but the novel really comes off the rails in the last part. It didn’t surprise me to read that Arlidge used to be a scriptwriter for shows like East Enders and Silent Witness: the last part reads like a telenovela, and not a good one. There’s a chunky plot twist near the end and it’s just… Daft. It’s never a good sign when a ludicrous plot twist is needed to wrap up your story.
The writing itself is surprisingly effective and the book reads like a script; there are no preponderances, no clunky metaphors or, well, anything of literary merit, which speeds the story along at a breakneck pace. Unfortunately this comes at the detriment of a coherent plot and any semblance of character development.
It’s a mess, people.