Matt Forney
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The List by J.A. Konrath

J.A. Konrath is one of the great success stories of the self-publishing era: he rakes in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year with his thriller novels, most notably his “Jack Daniels” series. He’s also one of the best sources of information on self-publishing via his blog. I picked up this novel during one of his free giveaway days, and once again, I’m left more or less empty.

The List is a good novel for what it is—a well-written, unoriginal thriller—but it has little appeal outside anyone who isn’t already interested in the genre.

The plot concerns seven people from different walks of life who each have a different number tattooed on the bottoms of their feet. One of them, protagonist and Chicago detective Tom Mankowski, is assigned to investigate the murder of one when he gets drawn into a web of deceit and blah blah blah. It won’t be spoiling too much to reveal that the seven are clones of famous historical personalities, engineered by the government for a nefarious purpose:

“Genetically, you’re identical. You have an exact DNA match. But your body was never part of his, no. In fact, there are quite a few subtle differences. For example, the enucleated liver cells that we cultured your DNA in—they were mine. They were just empty shells, but still my genetic material. The same with the donor eggs from the mother—again they were scraped out, but the cell membrane was still from another human being.”

If you’re looking for gun fights, fistfights, torture sequences and detailed descriptions of ultraviolence, The List has ’em all in spades, particularly the last two. In fact, frankly, the sheer amount of gore is a little disturbing. The villains of the book have an obsession with impaling their victims on wooden spikes, and our heroes always seem to take them out in the most Mortal Kombat-esque ways possible:

The bus hit him head on. Vlad’s arms reached out and grabbed the bumper as his legs went under the front tire. He wasn’t dragged, exactly. It was more like he was erased. Pinned between the wheel and the street, Vlad’s lower half was scraped away, leaving a wide streak of gore for almost thirty yards, like a big red skid mark.

Strangely enough, there isn’t much sex; Tom gets involved with his fellow clone Joan (you have three guesses as to who she’s supposed to be, and the first two don’t count), but it doesn’t go beyond a couple of kisses.

The List’s dialogue and pacing is fast and tight enough that I was motivated to keep reading, but nothing about the book really impressed me. The segments with Tom’s hackneyed black partner Roy got tiresome quickly, as did the comic relief factor of Bert, the Albert Einstein-clone turned fish lure salesman. Additionally, the big bad guy’s evil plot for world domination is so cheesy and corny it reads like a forgotten Ed Wood script.

Thing is, nobody’s reading books like The List because they’re high art; they’re reading them because they want to be entertained. If you want a page-turner to keep you satisfied for the next week, this novel will more than suffice. Everyone else can pass it up.

Click here to buy The List.

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