Ragdoll: A Novel
“debut effort . . . ultimately not worth your time.”
Ragdoll, Daniel Cole’s debut novel, offers an absolutely irresistible premise. Police discover that a body hanging in an empty apartment is actually parts of six different victims stitched together into a single corpse. Cole’s protagonist, London detective William Fawkes, a.k.a. Wolf, is a disgraced homicide investigator drawn into the Ragdoll case by his former partner, Detective Emily Baxter. The case promptly follows two tracks: as police are trying to identify the Ragdoll victims a list of six new victims surfaces—and Wolf’s name is the last one on the list.
Daniel Cole is a former paramedic and animal cruelty prevention officer who endured the usual round of rejections until he hit the winning lottery ticket with this publisher. The manuscript was the hit of the 2016 London Book Fair, it has already sold in over 25 countries, and Cole has signed a television deal with a British production company. All very good for him.
Unfortunately, it would have been a good idea, perhaps, to have written a better novel first. While it’s currently fashionable for bestsellers to trick readers with unreliable narrators and surprise plot twists at the end, fashion doesn’t always translate into quality.
The plot of this novel is a ragdoll in itself, stitched-together segments that don’t match up and that leave the reader puzzled, confused, or downright frustrated as the story proceeds from one improbable development to the next.
The protagonist, Wolf, is by turns irritating and disappointing as a main character. The moral ambiguity of the story, also fashionable these days, is summed up when one of the detectives declares, “There are no ‘good’ people. There are just those who haven’t been pushed far enough yet, and those that have.” While many readers enjoy this kind of nihilism, many others do not.
Cole’s writing skills also leave much to be desired. While Ragdoll shows the stylistic immaturity of a first novel, granted, he would have been well-served to have used the five years he waited for his lottery ticket to hit the jackpot to put his manuscript through a much more vigorous rewrite than it obviously received. His squad room banter, for example, comes off as more painful than humorous:
“Once you’re in the interview room, you’re in there for the long haul.”
“How long?” asked Wolf.
“Until we’re sure the mayor is safe.”
“I’ll get you a bucket,” called out an arrogant detective constable named Saunders, finding his own contribution hilarious.
“I was actually wondering what was for lunch,” replied Wolf.
“Blowfish,” sneered Saunders, testing Simmons’ patience.
“Do you think this is a laughing matter, Saunders?” Simmons shouted, perhaps overreacting a little for the sake of the commander. “Get out!”
The rat-faced detective stuttered like a chided schoolboy:
“I actually physically can’t . . . because of the lockdown.”
“Then just sit there and shut up.”
Choosing the worst possible moment to enter the meeting room—Baxter and Edmunds entered the meeting room.
Add to this sophomoric writing style a series of lame attempts at black humor, perhaps the worst of which comes when Wolf is confronted by a villain with a sword and counters with a fountain pen, invoking the tired old cliché, and you have a novel that is by turns annoying, confusing, and dissatisfying.
While his debut effort will apparently catapult Daniel Cole into the starry heavens of literary success, the blunt truth is that Ragdoll is little more than a NaNoWriMo project in bestseller’s clothing, and ultimately not worth your time.