Review: Dead End Deal by Allen Wyler

edenskeeper June 15, 2012 0 Book Reviews


Publisher’s Book Blurb

World-renowned neurosurgeon Jon Ritter is on the verge of a medical breakthrough that will change the world. His groundbreaking surgical treatment, using transplanted non-human stem cells, is set to eradicate the scourge of Alzheimer’s disease and give hope to millions. But when the procedure is slated for testing, it all comes to an abrupt and terrifying halt. Ritter’s colleague is gunned down and Ritter himself is threatened by a radical anti-abortion group that not only claims responsibility, but promises more of the same.

Faced with a dangerous reality but determined to succeed, Ritter and his allies conduct clandestine clinical trials in Seoul, Korea. But there, Ritter and his allies are thrown into a horrifying nightmare scenario: The trial patients are murdered and Ritter is the number one suspect. Now, aided by his beautiful lab assistant, Yeonhee, Ritter flees the country, as he becomes the target of an international manhunt involving Interpol, the FBI, zealous fanatics and a coldly efficient assassin named Fiest.

So much is wrong with this book, I’ve struggled with how to write such a scathing book review my first time out. Dead End Deal has a great premise, and I was extremely excited to see how it played out. But his execution is such a distraction from the story, like an ill-fitting bra, you can’t help but focus your attention on the problem, and not the assets themselves. The story revolves around a tumultuous period in the life of neurosurgeon Jon Ritter as he seeks a cure for Alzheimer’s. He shows up on a “hit list” of a militant anti-abortion group and is subsequently targeted (and terrorized) by someone telling him to stop his stem cell research “or else.” Industrial espionage, betrayal, and death abound. Sounds great, right?

The problems start right out of the gate. The prologue is excruciating to get through, introduces, (with great detail), a large number of characters that never show up again. Names, mannerisms, glimpses into their personalities, are all extraneous. What actually stands out during this listing of all the board members during this supposedly intense meeting is how nearly everyone’s name ends in –er. Gliner, Chandler, Warner. The “heavy” in the board room has the unfortunate moniker of “Schwartz.” As if giving her an awkward sounding name, and everyone else in the room white-bread names, added a dimension he couldn’t have created any other way. Later you have Ritter and Fisher. Oh, and Fisher’s deceased sister, Carrie (Is Mr. Wyler a Star Wars fan?). Naming your characters isn’t always easy; I get that. Here’s my problem with what Wyler has done here: You notice it. You obviously shouldn’t be able to pick out patterns in how he names his good guys vs bad guys. Of course the author’s name ending in –er probably has nothing to do with this over-use of similarly named characters, right? Right?

The writing trips up the story like a pot-hole filled road. Wyler uses the Omnipotent Voice throughout the book. The narrator switches from scene to scene, chapter to chapter. This is an extremely easy voice to write, but a hard voice to write well. The biggest trap Wyler falls into with this point of view, is telling us what is happening throughout. We are told what Ritter is feeling, what Feist is feeling, what Fisher is feeling, instead of being shown. “Show don’t tell,” is the mantra of English Lit professors across the country for a reason. It gets old being told what is going on in everyone’s heads. Fast. The other issue Wyler has is that some of the clichés he uses to paint Feist as a baddie, show up elsewhere in other characters. Feist is a raging homophobe and racist. While your characters should be real people, and there are real racists and homophobes out in the world, relying too heavily on constant gay slurs to convey to your reader how nasty and evil the villain is can be a real issue. Especially when later on a character is described as meticulously well-groomed, but “not gay.” Hitting that line pulls you out of the story like pulling the hand brake, makes you look up and say is Wyler’s own judgments filtering through his story here? Is it really relevant that this character is defined as “not gay”? That plus all the previous homophobic slurs makes you stop and wonder. Even if Wyler is a happily gay man, again, the problem is that it takes you out of your suspension of reality, returns you to seeing the support structure, and not the story.

So many clichés are used throughout, though. Jokes about Koreans eating dogs (tired), a studious female Korean doctoral researcher stops to primp her hair, in the middle of a crisis (out of character), and half-hearted stabs at the tension between police, FBI and University Police over jurisdiction (again, tired) are but a few of the clichés Wyler clings to. Being married to an Australian, I have a unique base of comparison for the villain Feist. First, Australians do not talk like Yoda (“Had me heart set on vacation, I did.”). Second, Ritter recognizing the Australian accent from the Outback commercial? I literally slapped my hand to my head. When I told my husband that line, he said he would have stopped reading the book right there. Third, and I checked with my English Masters degree friends on this, if you use a proper name, use the original spelling for that proper name. Defense Intelligence Organization should be “Defence Intelligence Organisation.” For example, the tv show “Neighbours” from Australia should always be used with its correct Australian spelling. Obviously, common names would be spelled normally.

Structural writing issues are also a major distraction. Wyler goes into intricate details of the most random things (descriptions of clothes, routes driven). Paragraphs can be spent on such topics, while a sparse two sentences are given to describing a shooting. The writing flips between being rambling run-on sentences, and curt incomplete ones. I realize the version I got might not be the finished book, but the mis-use of commas and semi-colons was really distracting. I hope that is fixed in the final version. There were also a couple of typos. When the FBI agent is describing accents that could be confused with Australian, he lists “Aussie,” among the others. Umm…what? And lastly, Wyler does the Stephenie Meyer sin of starting paragraphs for no apparent reason.
How Wyler builds his characters, their motivation, and tries to get our sympathies for them is really awkward at times. With the FBI agent Fisher, his backstory of his sister who died from a botched abortion feels forced. There is also a moment where he blames the anti-abortionists for her death, then doesn’t. Was that a mistake on the author’s part, or attempting to show conflicting feelings within the character? It’s not clear, so the assumption falls to sloppy writing. The sex scenes between Stillman and his married girlfriend are simply annoying. They are far from sensual or even marginally titillating. Some sentences are so awkward they just defy description: “The female officer seated with her eyes diplomatically glued to the screen instead of turning to watch her superior officer’s face grow deep crimson.”

I could honestly keep going. I hate to be all negative; there are some good parts of this book. Aside from the prologue, the action begins almost immediately. When Wyler is writing action sequences, chases, etc, he seems to get into his grove. The writing isn’t great, but it does blend into the background enough that you can suspend reality and join the story. And as I said initially, the premise has a lot of potential. So on that positive note, I’ll let you decide if you can handle all the pitfalls to try Wyler’s thriller. You’ve been warned.

Reviewed by CommaChameleon


Allen Wyler is a renowned neurosurgeon who earned an international reputation for pioneering surgical techniques to record brain activity. He has served on the faculties of both the University of Washington and the University of Tennessee, and in 1992 was recruited by the prestigious Swedish Medical Center to develop a neuroscience institute.

In 2002, he left active practice to become Medical Director for a startup med-tech company (that went public in 2006) and he now chairs the Institutional Review Board of a major medical center in the Pacific Northwest.

Leveraging a love for thrillers since the early 70’s, Wyler devoted himself to fiction writing in earnest, eventually serving as Vice President of the International Thriller Writers organization for several years. After publishing his first two medical thrillers Deadly Errors (2005) and Dead Head (2007), he officially retired from medicine to devote himself to writing full time.

He and his wife, Lily, divide their time between Seattle and the San Juan Islands.

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