Beth’s Book is a novel about mid-list author Beth Shepherd, whose sixth detective novel is stalled due to writer’s block. As she deals with this and unresolved family issues, she begs her fictional detective to help her out. To her shock, her protagonist does.
Author Tim Woods’ cover tagline—“Fictional detectives aren’t supposed to solve their author’s crimes”—shows his intent to exploit the eerie connection that can exist between authors and their creations. While writing fictional characters, authors may unconsciously reveal or discover things about themselves, their pasts, and their real-life relationships.
This conceit involving Beth’s detective character sets the expectation of a mystery/suspense/thriller read, but that’s not the case here. The first 200 pages are a long, slow read through the minutiae of Beth’s life, from showering, to booting up her computer, wandering through a bookstore, reading posters in an alley, dealing with family issues—none of which have anything to do with her book’s plot or her writer’s block.
Even when, almost two-thirds of the way through the book, Beth’s protagonist finally does dive into the author’s psyche to unearth her past, Woods cannot stay with the “detective” story. It’s interrupted by side stories about Beth’s alcoholic friend and her agent, dying of cancer. And once the betrayal of trust that’s at the core of Beth’s family issues comes to light, it’s all quickly resolved in a few pages.
In addition to these drawbacks, the book is burdened with unlikeable characters: Beth and her self-pity; friend Julie’s narcissistic immaturity; Beth’s needy 21-year-old son; a therapist who seems almost cruelly taunting. The only glimmer of warmth begins to show about 100 pages from the end when Beth and her agent discuss his dying.
Framed as a detective novel, this might have been a riveting story that would keep readers guessing and end with a tremendous punch. Unfortunately, Beth’s Book doesn’t hit the mark.
Also available as an ebook.