Dirty Hands

T.R. Braxton

Montebello Books, 2009

260 pages/Fiction

2 out of 5 stars


Dirty Hands, the debut by author T.R. Braxton, starts with a dead girl, killed by accident during a drunken night of sex and drugs by lowlife hood Damon Brock. Moments later both the girl’s friends are killed in an effort to cover up the first murder. Brock’s buddies Terrell and Shawntae take part dismembering the bodies and dumping them in a nearby river and we begin a dirty crime thriller with a 3-way hate triangle of guilt, fear and mistrust.

Braxton is a master of street-slang and inner-city vernacular. His three main characters speak with a gritty yet fluid street lingo that almost becomes its own dialect. We have three hoods, all bad guys, who have committed horrific crimes and now live with their cover up, wondering if they’ll all be able to keep the secret, knowing that murder and the possibility of life in prison (or worse) means that there are no true friends. It’s every man for himself. You don’t like these guys – you’re not supposed to like these guys. You hope they get what’s coming to them; that justice is served.

But what could be a thrilling psychological crime story suffers from one major flaw: Braxton gives us no character to identify with. The murderers are soulless lowlifes you cannot root for. They really have no redeeming qualities that make you sympathetic to their plight. When they suffer, you are happy. They deserve to be burdened by guilt, but guilt is hardly a satisfying punishment. The police detectives are stand, run-of-the-mill cops and we don’t learn enough about them to form any kind of bond. There is no Clarice Starling trying to overcome incredible odds. Even the bad guys, struggling to hide evidence and keep their stories straight, seem to coast along easily outwitting their predators.

The character Monet, one of the murderers’ innocent girlfriend, becomes sympathetic after her boyfriend cheats on her and admits it, but when Terrell then confesses the details of the triple-murder to her, she decides – amazingly! – to become an accessory to the homicides and help him cover it up. What kind of a girl would help her ex-boyfriend cover up three murders just minutes after he confessed to cheating on her, and to killing the three women? Monet is incredibly forgiving, and this is hard to believe, given the brutality of the crime and the status of her relationship with Terrell.

There are also some major formatting, spelling and grammatical errors that distract greatly from Braxton’s sound writing. The top margin is too small and the bottom margin is way too big. Paragraphs are indented inconsistently, and sometimes not at all. Different fonts are used seemingly by accident and the book feels like it has never been edited. This is a huge flaw that can easily be corrected and all authors should take time to make sure these significant errors are corrected.

In the end there is no redemption, no justice and the story is left unresolved with no sense of closure. I was hoping for a more dramatic ending but the story just sort of slows down and eventually dies. A good try for Braxton but his first effort suffers from lack of character development and story arc. The book felt like the last chapter was missing. It didn’t end the way it should have.

Dirty Hands is available from Amazon or the author’s website.

Reviewed by Mark McGinty, April 2010

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4 Responses to Dirty Hands

  1. T.R. Braxton says:

    Mr. Mcginty, I thank you for taking the time to review my book. Your comments about my book’s pagination were a real eye opener for me. I will now look into correcting the book’s formatting and issuing an improved edition.
    That said, I do not agree that the formatting inconsistencies distract greatly from enjoying the book. I haven’t had any complaints from the dozens of people who’ve bought my book so far. I do not dispute that my placement of margins and paragraphs proved distracting for someone with a trained, professional eye like you. The problem is that your comments might lead the Lehman to think my book isn’t put together well enough to resemble an actual book.
    I also do not agree that my book is full of poor grammar. Well, it is, but that is done intentionally when my characters are speaking. There is no way that my prose has enough spelling and grammatical errors to prove distracting (That is unless a few and many are synonyms to you).
    Mr. McGinty, my strongest disagreement with you concerns your analysis of my book’s main characters.
    You describe the main trio of Terrell, Brock, and Shawntae as soulless lowlifes. You also describe Brock as a lowlife hood. Neither of those statements is true. I inform the reader early in the book that Terrell is a college student and his cohorts are both working men. I further humanize Terrell by showing him interacting with his mother and younger brother. Of the three, only Brock has ever been in trouble before. How does that amount to being soulless lowlifes?
    My purpose in writing Dirty Hands was to explore how easily a poor decision could lead regular people to be immersed in crime. Terrell and his friends only meant to have a good time, but their out of control drinking served as the catalyst for the disaster that resulted instead.
    This story was not meant to have a hero, but I don’t think the average reader would have a problem connecting with Terrell. He’s a decent guy who gets trapped into a terrible situation that he doesn’t know how to resolve. The goal was for the reader to be horrified at what Terrell and his friends (particularly Brock) do, but be even more disturbed by the fact that the actions seem perfectly reasonable to those involved.
    Concerning your comments about Monet, that may be a difference of cultural experience between us. I think it’s very realistic for a woman to help her man cover up a crime. I know of plenty women who’ve helped their boyfriends in criminal enterprise. In my experience, if a woman loves a man enough, she’ll at least not help the police apprehend him if he commits a crime.
    Once again, I thank you for your review. I took the time to write this response because you profess to enjoy and invite intelligent debate about books.

  2. mmcginty says:

    Mr. Braxton, thank you for a thoughtful and very respectful response. I think we may have to agree to disagree on a few of your points, but let me see if I can help you understand what I was thinking as I read this book.

    1. Yes, the dialogue is filled with intentionally poor grammar, which works to its advantage. It’s very well done, and I call this out in the review. My biggest problem was with the margins and the inconsistent indentation of the paragraphs, as well as inconsistent fonts. You seem to give yourself a pass on these but you can’t take yourself off the hook just because you think I am a trained professional. I’m not. I’m just a typical member of your audience – just someone who likes to read. If I notice these things and have a problem with them, chances are many people will too. I’m saying this to help you because when you write your next book you’ll want to make sure the formatting is perfect. It’s a big distraction that makes the book look amateurish and unprofessional. Honest opinion.

    2. I see the characters as soulless lowlifes because they murder 3 girls and cut their bodies apart before dumping them into the river. They’re drug users, they’re alcoholic, they cheat on their women, they murder others just to cover up the first murders, they mouth off to the cops…they lie, cheat and steal, all in a day’s work. They hardly feel any remorse. They’re getting away with it too easily. I did not feel them suffering over their crimes. There is hardly a sense of mental anguish or moral repent. It’s touched on but I don’t FEEL it because I have no reason to like these characters. I suggest showing their redeeming qualities first, so that we can form a bond with them before witness their atrocities. I don’t see them as regular people because you set them up and triple-murderers right away.

    The reasons you give for them being something better than lowlifes (upstanding, descent citizens?) are going to college, holding a job, and interacting with family. Really? I can think of dozens of characters who have done all 3 of these things but would still be considerd soulless lowlifes. Tony Soprano is the first name that comes to mind.

    It goes back to being able to identify with the characters early. The first thing they do is murder 3 girls, so right away I want justice served. They are bad guys, right away. I thought this would be a redemption story, but none of them tries to seek any kind of benediction or absolution. They just run from their crimes and eventually turn on each other. They literally get away with murder, and your average reader does not want to see that. In a sense, you have a tragic story but one with no real character that we can identify with (Hamlet, Michael Corleone).

    3. Monet. It may be realistic for a woman to help a man cover up a crime – but she had no reason to do this. He just cheated on her and admitted it to her face. Why would she make herself an accessory to 4 murders??? She has no reason to do this. Love is not a reason, since the love and trust has been violated, possibly forever. She’s either incredibly weak or incredibly stupid but you don’t write her as being either of these. She comes off as being very smart and very strong, which is why her helping Terrell didn’t work for me. She was better off without him and we all know it.

    4. Terrell. You were close…he was in a terrible situation that he didn’t know how to get out of. Great stories take a character like this and bring him to a point where there is absolutely no way he can succeed, and then make him succeed. I really hoped he would do a noble thing and talk to the cops and turn on Brock. I really thought that if he didn’t, Monet would. But none of them do. They are involved with 5 murders and all they do is cover them up. They’re not brave enough to admit their crimes, to the police, to their god. In the end they are cowards. Soulless cowards.

    How I would have done it – give us a scene with Terrell and Monet before the murder. Show us that they’re honest, descent people. Show us, don’t tell us. Then have Terrell get involved with Brock – make Brock the bad guy. Terrell is consumed by guilt and faces a moral and legal dilemma. In the end Terrell must choose between his so-called friend Brock and doing what’s right. In the end, he does what’s right no matter the consequences. Justice is done, the dead are allow to rest in peace.

    Dirty Hands is a story about 3 people who get away with 5 murders. It paints a very bleak, very unsafe and very dismal picture of this world.

    Hope this helps, and isn’t too harsh. I’m brutally honest, but people who work with me become better writers.

    Mark

  3. T.R. Braxton says:

    Mr. McGinty, I thank you for your thoughtful response to my response. We will have to agree to disagree about some things, but I want you to know that I will not wait for my next book to be published before following your advice about formatting. I intend to correct the formatting of this novel before having any more printed. I thank you for that aspect of your criticism and hope to have you review my next book.

  4. mmcginty says:

    If you want help in the meantime, let me know. I will help you any way I can. I’d check out some articles on structure…

    Here’s a good little article….pay attention to Plot Point 2 and Act 3, which is where most stories fall apart.

    http://www.musik-therapie.at/PederHill/Structure&Plot.htm

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