Peter Clines – 14 (Book Review)

14 cover

14 – Peter Clines

Nate Tucker’s inexpensive new LA apartment seems too good to be true, but it also comes with a lot of quirks. Several doors are heavily padlocked, one unit has a reputation for suicides, and the cockroaches are actually mutated. Despite the building manager’s threats, Nate soon finds himself obsessing over these mysteries, putting his job (and possibly more) at risk. This is the set-up of Peter Cline’s novel 14.

14 is an enjoyable page-turner, though the journeyman writing keeps it from ever becoming engrossing. Cline’s descriptions get hung up on details about the way an item is laid out or a person performs a simple task. It’s never bad, but it often keeps things from flowing smoothly. If this book engrosses you, it will be because of all the twists and secrets, not because you get lost in the prose. Similarly, the quantity and variety of the oddities can be a little hard to accept, as are some lucky coincidences that keep Nate’s investigation moving forward. (Strangely, though, some of the later things he uncovers are huge, and don’t actually rely on him following the trail of breadcrumbs that led him through the first half.) The characters are quirky, even by LA standards, and though the book promises that they have secrets, it’s more that they all have exactly the right skill sets to move the plot forward.

Still, Clines’ gifts lie in the plotting, and the story definitely progresses smoothly while raising the stakes and ensuring that new details are uncovered frequently. Most chapters are a few pages each, with cliff-hanger endings, making it easy to read. (These chapter breaks feel a little forced once you realize that they are consistently placed after surprises instead of at logical breaks in the action. Conversations are often split between two chapters so that one chapter can end with a surprise revelation, but then a major scene change will fall in the middle of the following chapter.)

Strangely, I appreciated 14 as a mystery-thriller novel, but Clines intended it to be a horror novel. It does seem a little creepy at the start, because it is scary to think of moving into a new building where you might not be safe, but that aspect quickly fades away once it takes on the structure of an investigation. Nate and his new friends follow patterns that seem safe and formulaic, in which pieces come together and curiosity is rewarded. This is the stuff of comfortable thrillers, not horror novels. Bad things happen to people, but they’re at the points in the plot where someone should be expected to pay a price. The big reveals late in the story do have some trappings of the horror genre, but by that time, my thought was just “I wonder how the intrepid gang will get out of this!” Had it been a horror story, I would have been wondering if they were going to get out of it.

14 is never as clever or original as it apparently intends to be, but it’s a fun genre exercise. This was one of the three books I was recently reading simultaneously for my book clubs, and it was often the one I was most eager to come back to. On the other hand, when it ended I didn’t feel any need to keep thinking about the story or to look into the author’s other works.

Grade: C+

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