Dead Lands by Lloyd Otis – Review
By Sarah Morgan
They say that everybody has a book in them. The problem is getting it out. While many of us dream of getting our magnus opus on the shelves, few people have the spare moments or inclination to actually create something. Instead, procrastination is, indeed the thief of time.
So when someone comes along who has actually done the deed, they should be patted on the back (and not in a patronising way) for doing what they set out to do. If the biographical notes in Lloyd Otis’ debut novel are to be believed, he too has longed to get in print, and has undergone a training of sorts by creating a blog and interviewing a number of crime writers before penning Dead Lands.
I was excited to read the resulting novel because not only is it something new in a genre I love, it’s set in an era I find endlessly fascinating – the 1970s.
Unfortunately, my enthusiasm began to wane early on because in no way did it evoke the decade I can dimly remember, or even any of the films, TV programmes and documentaries I’ve seen made during that time.
In fact, the only way a reader would have known that it didn’t have a contemporary setting is the fact that at no time are computers or mobile phones featured, although there is, early on, mention of checking somebody’s landline records – no copper, or anybody else for that matter, in the 1970s would ever, surely, have said ‘landline’.
Back then, you had a phone line or nothing, and I must admit that I found such a glaring error not only unforgivable but rather off-putting. Couple that with a rather rose-tinted view of the force back then – it not only featured women in senior roles, but was also multi-cultured with an Asian in charge. Although not, I suppose, impossible, it’s a highly implausible state of affairs.
The stop-start nature of the writing style is also jarring at times. Otis isn’t by any means the only author to fall into the trap of thinking that short sentences are more dramatic, but here, his insistence on keeping them staccato sometimes throws off a reader, and can even lessen the impact because they no longer make much sense.
All of the above is a shame, because Otis clearly has some skill as a writer; there is a decent story somewhere in Dead Lands, involving a twisty-turns murder case involving a suspect who may or may not be who he says he is, potential in-fighting and betrayal among the detectives, and an intriguing personal matter for the lead officer, Arlo Breck.
Perhaps all Otis needs is a decent editor to iron out various problems and we’ll have a major force in the crime genre on our hands. Let’s hope so.
But if you’re looking for a modern take on The Sweeney, Dead Lands ain’t it.
‘Dead Lands’ by Lloyd Otis is published by Urbane, £8.99