Title: The Life Assistance Agency
Author: Thomas Hocknell
Date Read: 16/09/2016 – 23/09/2016
Ah man. I am going to have to live with this being another case of really enjoying the author’s blogs and Twitter, but the published work just not doing it for me. It had its moments, but I ended up having to really trudge through the majority.
Ben Furguson-Cripps is a struggling writer who gets caught up in a friend’s new venture, the Life Assistance Agency, which vaguely seeks to assist people in whichever way possible. When their first client brings them a missing persons case, they end up a trek around Europe, following in the footsteps of Dr John Dee and Edward Kelley, two Elizabethan occultists who sought to communicate with angels, and Ben finds his cynicism regarding all forms of magic and the supernatural severely challenged.
My first issue with this book was that I really struggled to relate to Ben in any meaningful way. He had a fairly standard backstory (drunk mother, father who ran out on them…) and was, well… this sounds mean, but he was kind of a loser, and I didn’t really sympathise with his struggles. The other characters also didn’t really ellicit any kind of emotional response from me. It was also quite a male-dominated story, which can be okay, but the few female characters that were there didn’t have much agency. Jane Dee, excerpts from whose diary are peppered throughout the book, went from being really bothered about Edward Kelley’s obvious leering and lusting after her to being attracted to him. I know that does happen, but Kelley was set up as really gross, and so her change of heart bugged me.
The other main issue was the pacing. The mystery isn’t very compelling, and really relies on the reader getting to the point where it all comes together at the end, because the actions of some characters don’t make sense until you finally find out their motivation at that point. The aforementioned diary excerpts really slowed the plot down, too, and there was a lot of traveling around and “Oh no, we’re being followed” without very much else going on to hold my interest. The last 10-15% did improve quite a bit, but by then I had already been skimming for a fair while and was ready to be finished.
This does have the makings of a fun story and I think with some work it could have got there. Unfortunately, I think maybe this one went to print a little too early, and really suffers for it.
(Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for a free copy of this book in exchange for a review)