(Disclaimer — Both the author and the cover designer are co-workers of mine here at PhantomSway. They are also my friends, though I may later have difficulty looking KJ directly in the eye when I meet her. Neither of them asked me to do this review. In fact, no one at PS asked me to write this review and I have no monetary interest in how many copies the book sells. Of course, I’d like KJ to sell a bazillion copies of the book because she is my friend and I want her to be successful beyond her wildest dreams. I also paid full Amazon price for the book. Cool? Cool.)
Let me be completely honest with you. I don’t know whether you will like KJ Adan’s debut novel The Method or not. When I finished reading it three days ago, I wasn’t sure if I did. I figured it out, but it led me on quite the journey.
Let me explain.
When I sit down to read a book, I bring certain expectations to the table. You do, too. Our expectations are so ingrained into us and so predictable that virtually every author in history has used them to produce books we love. More often than not, if we hate a book, it is because the author has abused our expectations in some significant way.
Adan did not merely abuse my expectations; she dragged them behind the barn from whence came muffled sawing and crunching noises and returned them to me…changed. Everything in this book comes at you from a direction you don’t quite expect. Adan first introduces us to a character we think we know but that we do not really know at all. She then drops us into a story that appears to be a murder mystery or maybe a thriller but stubbornly refuses to tell the story in the traditional murder mystery or thriller ways. She gives us secondary characters that look on first glance like stereotypes or caricatures but who turn out to be…more. I honestly can’t be more specific than that because if I do, I’ll spoil a couple interesting and downright creepy parts of the book and that would be a crime. You may well end up liking characters you started out hating, hating characters you started out liking, and standing utterly confused about whether a couple characters could be real people at all.
Understand, though, every character in The Method is real. Adan has spent many years working in and around the Hollywood entertainment industry. She knows the ground and those who walk it. This is what makes the book work as well as it does. It seems impossible that people can act like her characters act, but they do. They have clear motivations that make complete sense to them. They are products of their upbringing (either family or career or both). They are not accidental or born from formula or necessity. This means the horrible things that happen in The Method (and, believe me, there are horrible things aplenty) seem more horrible because they proceed logically. A character must act in the way she acts because that is who she is so of course that is what she must do.
Because of this, The Method is not only a crime story but also a series of mental and physical train wrecks. This leads me to one last subject: sex. There is a lot of fairly explicit sex in The Method, so don’t leave it on your Kindle where the young ‘uns can get their hands on it. The scenes are, in fact, more explicit than the scenes of violence. That bothered me for about a day until I realized something that made the book “click” for me, finally. Though the sex scenes are explicit, they are not intimate. Characters have sex because that is what they are supposed to do at that particular place and time. The sex, though physically intense, is mentally detached because it is a thing that follows another thing. One character, a woman, goes to a dinner party at another character’s house, gets tipsy, then attempts to seduce him. He goes along with the seduction although he is not particularly attracted to her because, well, isn’t that how it works? She enjoys the night. He does a bit but not really. A couple other characters in private conversations with him easily guess he had sex with her because of course he did. They giggle about it because it has quickly-consumed gossip value, but it doesn’t matter. It barely comes up again because by there’s more sex to come — all of it mentally and spiritually empty, without tenderness or real human connection.
How can people live like that? How can an entire world operate at such a soulless level? It’s easy if you consider that there is more than one sociopath in the novel. Our killer is not the only one detached from real human warmth. Just about every significant character in this book is living in his own private paradise where he is the only one who really matters. The murderer is clearly a sociopath, but so are just about everyone else in his orbital plane.
This, really, is why it took me some time to decide whether I liked The Method or not. I expected a crime novel with a cagey murderer and (maybe) a hapless but likable victim and a clever detective. Instead, I got a world of sociopaths where everyone believes they are perfectly normal no matter what they do up to, and including, murder. I don’t like that world and I wasn’t comfortable in it. I’m even less comfortable with how easily Adan slid me into the world, without my ever suspecting I was there. I was even less comfortable with how easily I liked several of these sociopaths even though I could plainly see their awfulness. Yet I liked The Method. The book moves quickly, but is never in a rush. KJ mixes in Hollywood slang deftly so that we can use context to figure out what she means. The dialogue sounds great (and would sound great in an audiobook — hint, hint!). She’s written a heck of a first novel and I can’t wait to see what else KJ has in store for us.
Look, I don’t plan on renting an apartment there, but Adan’s Hollywood of Sociopaths is a place worth visiting so that we can remind ourselves what we should never become. Go see for yourself.