Hoo boy. This book.
So you know that rule writers like to talk about a lot, “Show, don’t tell”? Well, normally I’m not one to demand that writers follow rules, or rag on them when they color a bit outside the lines. But I think perhaps the author (or maybe just her editor) needs to revisit this rule. Like, a lot. This book is so bad about telling and not showing that I frequently found myself skipping huge chunks of text because none of it was necessary or interesting. That’s less “coloring outside of the lines” and more “you need a better editor.”
To make matters worse, the story also head-jumps a lot, (for those of you who don’t know what that means, it basically refers to when an author switches from one character’s point of view to another) which means that the story is basically one long string of: “CHARACTER NAME had a lot of feelings. These feelings came from their dark and unhappy past, thus causing them to think a lot of thoughts. The thoughts haunted them a lot. It wasn’t fair that other characters got caught up in all of the emotional run-off of their Thought-Feelings, so CHARACTER NAME resolved to not like ice cream anymore.”
Then you get a little” ~~~” as a paragraph break and the cycle starts again. Rinse, and repeat for 50+ chapters, add in head-jumping so frequent that it sometimes occurs on the very same page, and you have “Tainted Morals”.
Yeeeah. Now you know why this book gave me a headache.
The part which kills me about this book, (no pun intended) is that IT HAS SO MUCH POTENTIAL. There is genuinely some good stuff in here which gets buried underneath the metric fuckton of exposition. For instance, I lost count of how many times there should have been pulse-pounding tension happening on the page, but instead all I got was a lengthy trip down a character’s own private Memory Lane. An example: early on in the book, the protagonist is attacked the book’s main Bad Guy. This comes after an entire chapter spent detailing what weapons the protag has stashed away; how she might use them in case of an attack; etc. Bad Guy’s attack should be a moment of terror, both for the reader and the protag. But instead it ends up being this weirdly calm, drawn out scene where the protagonist basically just lies down and nearly dies. She spends her final moments of consciousness thinking about her past with about as much excitement as one might read the items off of a grocery list. The Bad Guy does the same. Tension? What tension?
There are good characters, too, but unfortunately the author feels it necessary to punish them by forcing them to make incredibly stupid decisions in order to move the plot forward. This is a trope which infuriates me no end, especially when several stupid decisions coalesced into a sort of Perfect Storm of Stupidity in which several characters needlessly lost their lives and an extra two chapters were tacked on to the book so that everyone could get in a good paragraph or two of exposition before they died. (Oh, and an extra demerit for introducing a character who started out as an asshole, experienced growth and was ready to get his life back in order, and then died as I knew he would the second he decided to stop being an asshole. His existence was THAT trite.)
It also really bothered me that the protagonist’s love interest (we’ll call him Sheriff Dude) becomes attracted to her out of the blue and when she is lying on the floor bleeding and unconscious. No, I’m not kidding. As he helps revive her he takes a moment to notice her elegant fingers and how “breathtakingly beautiful” she is. (Note: the only description we get of her is that she has auburn hair and is really thin. This to me screams either “Mary Sue!” or “I tried to make her seem normal by giving her semi-average descriptors!”) He continues to feel strongly aroused by her presence throughout her recovery from this attack, including several time when she is still unconscious. To me this is really fucking creepy. Not to mention, it makes NO sense–these two have been living in the same town together for almost two years! If their “chemistry” is so strong, then why didn’t it kick in sooner? Or can Sheriff Dude only have Pantsfeelings about someone who’s a victim? (He also uses a lot of possessive language later on in the book–she’s “his” and this is passed off as some kind of “macho impulse”. Barf.)
Despite all of this, “Tainted Morals” isn’t a book I can outright hate, because there are genuinely some good moments which manage to shine through despite the author’s lazy devices. There were things about it I liked, and the ending even made me smile. But lord, if ever there was a perfect example of why “Show, don’t tell” is an important rule, it’s this book. In fact, I might almost recommend it as a teaching aid.