Mr. Mann: The Afterlife and Times of the Devil's Acquisitor Ad Infinitum by John Byron
I seem to be on a "Devil and God" book kick -- I finished the Sandman Slim series up to the current book, and as soon as that was done, I started this one.
I picked this book up because Audible was having one of their sales and it was cheap. The description sounded interesting -- I've long enjoyed stories from 'the other side' of traditional pairings or dichotomies.
Now, what was it about this book that made me spend the two days before Christmas listening to it? I'm trying to pin that down.
I did like it. I didn't love it. So let me take it apart a bit.
Martin Mann is not your average Wall Street wolf. Abused as a child, he murdered his mother and stepfather as a teen, then went on to make a material success of himself. He's a bit special, but nothing in particular -- he can see auras, and can read them a bit. And one day, he meets up with the Devil, who wants to hire him for a special job, and arranges matters so that it's an offer Mann can't really refuse.
We then skip and jump through Mann's disjointed life as he collects damned souls. He's put in contact with parts of humanity he had never before encountered and it changes him. He also has a relationship with The Devil (aka Abi or Abby -- I don't know the spelling because, well, audiobook) that is difficult and scary (duh!) but still deep. And in all this mix we have God and Angels and stories of redemption and forgiveness, balance and responsibility, love and hate, along with some interesting theological viewpoints and ideas about what really is going on.
All that is good. Characters walk around and talk with enough reality to make them easily identifiable. The story is full of emotion and mystery that carries it along the somewhat twisty and cerebral plot. Told in first person, Martin Mann is engaging, sympathetic, and a good narrator of his own story.
Problems? First, Byron needs a better editor to polish his writing style. Listening is a different beast from reading, but I still got caught up on repeated words, some difficult dialog attribution, and a few sections that were, frankly, writerly self indulgence. None of this seriously affected my ability to follow the story, but they did catch me up and pull me away from the story to notice the writing and wonder what that static was. It was like walking a clean path and then stepping on some gravel -- I didn't fall, but I did feel those sharp points through my shoe. A good editor would have pointed those little things out and helped the author clean them up. My own writer brain wonders what I would have noticed in print -- the narrator of an audiobook can help a listener over some of those rocks with the magic of voice inflection and interpretation, and, of course, you don't hear the typos.
Second, sometimes Martin just seemed a bit...dumb. And since he was narrating directly to whomever was reading/listening, that came across as the author worrying his audience was going to be a bit dumb. Some points were belabored a bit. Some others, more than a bit. I had more than one occasion where I thought "Oh, come on, don't you get it?" because I'd figured something out based on story cues and clues, but the character just wasn't there yet, and, really, it didn't mesh with the intelligence he was supposed to have.
I'm going to say those problems would also be cured by a diligent, careful editor who isn't afraid to wound the delicate writerly soul. Not that Byron is delicate or too touchy to edit -- I have no idea. Writers in general tend to feel a bit bruised when working with a good editor. It's sort of like when you use your gym membership and hire a trainer. You finish your workout in pain and you might think you hate the dictator who pushes you through that extra set of leg lifts, but a few weeks later the pain has faded and you see those great legs starting to emerge.)
I think -- from the publisher information -- that this is a self-published title and the author may not have known anyone who could edit him into near perfection. The book is good, don't get me wrong, but it just skims under great because of those blips and stumbles and gravel in the path. It's a book with more thought than action, so there's not a lot of movement to pick a reader up and carry her over those rough patches.
Give it a read yourself. I think it's a perfectly pleasant way to spend a couple of evenings or a boring rainy day. I'll keep my eye open for other books by this author.