Toni Dzielny is not having a good day. In fact, she’s not having a good week. Her boyfriend is murdered less than two miles from her house and before he dies he snail-mails her a mysterious computer disc telling her to “keep it secret, keep it safe.” Luckily she’s a part-time tech blogger, but even that bit of knowledge won’t get her far with no more, than half a shoe print.
Set in Detroit, a tough city to even get work, Toni is left trying to find a murderer and a job. Within days, she’s loses her technical writing job, has to swear off coffee due to her hypertension, and interviews for her dream job as a writer for the Detroit Free Press, only to find she’s competing for the same job with her beautiful nemesis, Kayla Ratcliff.
Toni enlists the help of her brilliantly nerdy friends (who she calls the three Amigos) to clear her name and learn the contents of the disc before she shares Leo's fate. They discover the disc not only points to why Leo was murdered, but it holds a secret that could destroy a local cancer center’s new research...and her mother’s only hope for treatment.
Rob Steiner describes mystery ASPECT OF PALE NIGHT as having a similar voice to Stephanie Plum, which drew my interest right away. Plum is a quirky character with a lot of spice and a big heart. Steiner’s Toni did not disappoint either. Let me make my comparisons. Listen to the voice of Stephanie Plum…
“In my mind, my kitchen is filled with crackers and cheese, roast chicken leftovers, farm fresh eggs, and coffee beans ready to grind. The reality is that I keep my Smith & Wesson in the cookie jar, my Oreos in the microwave, and hamster food in the over-the counter cupboard, and I have beer and olives in the refrigerator.”
Steiner’s main character, Toni starts out just as quirky, but with a much softer side right away. This is how she (Toni) reacts to her long lost boyfriends call in her head when he affectingly calls her hugs.
“I thought it was sweet then. Right now it felt like a punch in the stomach.” The sameness between Stephanie and Toni is their understanding of reality. They both get it. They might not like it, but they get it. Toni’s voice grabbed me right away. Her reason for pursuing Leo’s murderer was crystal clear from the beginning of the story - she loved him.
Honestly, it was hard to believe a guy wrote this, Steiner did a fabulous job of writing emotions from a female perspective. Absolutely, no cheese dripped from the heart of his main character, Toni, very genuine.
In addition, after all a girl needs good friends, especially geeks like Toni who is often shy away from them. The supporting characters worked, her friends were the geekiest, cut right out of a science fiction magazine three Amigos ever drawn into a novel. He even described one as chinless, and one with big thick glasses.
I’m a big fan of a book called “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass and in it Maass talks about creating a main character with personal stakes, well Toni did that for me. She had a great voice because she was trying to solve a mystery to help her mother, and discover who killed her long lost love. Personal stakes was never an issue for me. Toni was never in this for the money.
What I did have some problems with, are what Maass described in a chapter he called “Low Tension Part I: The Problem With Tea”. In this chapter he urges writers to cut scenes set in kitchens, living rooms, cars, driving from one place to another, basically tea scenes within the first fifty pages. He says they lack tension.
Many of Steiner’s scenes are set around computers trying to figure out a code. Sadly, I found myself skimming those sections, despite liking the Amigos so much and Toni. Also, for me paragraphs sometimes felt too thick, maybe less descriptive and more focus on tension in the room with the characters.
Ah, something else, that did work before I forget, plot, very complex and beautifully done. I think Steiner could have overwhelmed the reader with mumble jumble computer talk, but instead he kept things in simple terms and told a wonderful story anyone can follow, even a layman like me. Obviously he’s much smarter than myself when it comes to technological jargon. I enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.
ASPECT OF PALE NIGHT can be found at Amazon and Smashwords