I've read a handful of suspense novelist Peter Abrahams' titles, and to my eye, they've been been hit and miss. The Tutor (Random House, June 2002) and a foray into YA literature, Down the Rabbit Hole (Laura Geringer Books, April 2005), though very different stories intended for very different audiences, were more similar than they were distinct. Both were competently plotted mystery novels with thin characters that left little impression by the end of the last chapters. On the other hand, Oblivion (HarperCollins, April 2005) was one of the most innovatively plotted modern crime novels I've encountered, and Abrahams did a phenomenal job with this story of a private detective searching for a client's missing daughter, taking an old format and giving it a new perspective. So not knowing which Abrahams I'd be getting with End of Story (HarperCollins, March 2006), I picked up the novel with some trepidation.
Don't be fooled by End of Story's laudatory write-up in the May 1 issue of the New Yorker (with words like "craftily plotted," "appealing heroine" and "plucky young woman"); this Abrahams is not the Abrahams who gave readers Oblivion's terminal private eye Nick Petrov. End of Story's protagonist, Ivy Seidel, isn't fit to wash Petrov's gumshoes.
The problems with End of Story originate with its heroine. Very much like Francie Cullingwood, the heroine of Abrahams' 1998 novel A Perfect Crime, Ivy is an unbelievable moron--painfully stupid in a way that's insulting to women.
Ivy is a cocktail waitress/bartender by day and an aspiring writer by night. Filing away rejection after rejection (including a rather suspect personal on a short story from--tee hee--the New Yorker), Ivy struggles with writer's block, creative self-doubt, and of course, fending of the advances of an eligible bachelor because, well, I don't know. I guess he just doesn't do it for her. Serendipitously, a screenwriter friend of hers clues her into a job teaching creative writing at a maximum security men's prison. Since Ivy feels she lacks dark and gritty life experience--not to mention extra money to supplement her service gig--she dives right in, thriving on the raw, dangerous manliness of it all.
Ivy becomes convinced, rather quickly, that one of her students, brooding Vance Harrow, is a diamond in the rough, waiting to be discovered (examples of his writing left me doubtful on that front). Apparently sensing her interest, Vance takes an interest in Ivy, too, making advances she knows she should reject but somehow can't.
And hey, what woman wouldn't lose her head over some sexy prison inmate? Wait, most women. Sure there are women who do go for the 20-to-life type, but Abrahams asks his readers to believe that his supposedly reasonably intelligent, reasonably attractive protagonist, with her youth, her health and all her teeth, would fall desperately in love with a sullen convict she's know for just days? That she'd sex him up, porno-style, while he was handcuffed to a hospital bed? That this woman would risk her life and her freedom for this prison stud? Hard to imagine. Harder to read, without tossing the book across the room, anyway.
Though Abrahams has always demonstrated himself deft at plotting, he has also shown that he should keep his set of main characters a men's club. Obviously, there are writers who can cross genders with their protagonists and pull it off--just as there are writers who can make an improbable plot probable on the strength of their writing--but Abrahams isn't one of them. He should leave the fairer sex alone and stick with what he's best at: crafting innovative mysteries with a twist of Old Spice.