Score: 84/100 (8.4 out of 10)
Dr. Altman and the Concubines is really something, but we can't quite put our finger on what that is. This book is a valiant attempt at storytelling and novel-writing. Apparently, this is the author's first novel, and you can kind of tell. Over time, we have hope that they can improve and reach their full potential.
To the author's credit, they really tried. They put together a novel with several characters who stand out and are somewhat memorable like Sigourney, Paul, Jennifer, and the titular Dr. Altman.
There's just something that feels off about the whole thing. There are times when we seriously did not get the point or the plot, and times when the writer just chose to linger on things that didn't need to be lingered on or could've been cut for pacing. Probably the main example of this is Paul's AA meeting. You have to sit through and read the entire AA session including being introduced to the other members in the meeting, some of whom don't seem to play much of a role in the long run. Yes, it does put across Paul's sly and sleazy personality as he pretends to be mournful for the sake of fulfilling his court sentence, but did it need to be drawn out like that? For the first hundred or so pages, we were wondering if anything interesting was even going to happen and who the main character actually was (without reading the summary).
Eventually, we figured out that this was actually a whodunit murder mystery that was setting up the major suspects for later. However, without knowing that or cheating by reading the full product description, it felt a bit dull and flat. Because of the presence of the WTC twin towers, we were wondering if the author might be setting up a 9/11 disaster story or something, but then realized that this takes place in the 80s. You almost can't tell that this story even happens on Earth beside from the mention of the World Trade Center. It literally seems like the characters live in a dystopian world like in Tron. It doesn't feel real. Everyone is terrible to each other and acts like an a-hole. We almost felt like this was some sort of indie sci-fi story about a mad scientist doing sexual human centipede experiments on women because that's kind of how the book was going. Well, that's not entirely off the mark. Only, the experiments aren't so much sewing butts to faces as screwing people physically and screwing them up mentally.
You're initially hopeful when you hear about this character named Ali. She sounds like she might be the book's first really interesting character, someone who is a good person deep-down but who is struggling internally because of the guilt she holds over the activities she has participated in. Then your hopes are swiftly crushed when she dies immediately. Well, she doesn't die immediately, she's already dead. However, her life and death do serve a purpose in reminding the main characters and the reader of the ultimate stakes and consequences of Dr. Altman's unscrupulous activities.
Let's talk about the characters because they're the best parts of this book.
You eventually figure out that Sigourney is the main protagonist of the book, a private investigator hired by Jennifer to investigate the leaking of an adult video featuring the latter. Sigourney is a perfectly adequate character. You're behind her and want her to get to the bottom of things. At the same time, she doesn't stand out as particularly special or interesting when compared to other similar characters including ones we've just read about like Penny from Grounded or Epiphany from Epiphany's Gift. We literally just read a whodunit mystery and maybe that got us a bit jaded on the subject.
Paul is another notable character in this book. In fact, he was our favorite character for the first half of the book. He has an edgy, funny, playboy vibe similar to Sawyer in Lost. But then it seems like the author just downright dropped the ball on him and ruined his character to an irreparable degree by having him commit an unforgivable and brutal crime against another person. The way it is described is reprehensible. How can you possibly get behind a character after doing something like that? You can't. You could make the argument that the author deserves credit for making us feel that sense of betrayal, disappointment, and anger so strongly. However, that kind of assault shouldn't be something you throw into the mix lightly. The use of that type of assault as a plot device is generally becoming overdone and is usually very unnecessary. If you can avoid using it as a plot device, do it. It just felt shoved in there for the shock factor. Sorry. However, you could make the argument that this is a book with a lot of sex and sexually-exploitative crimes being committed, so there is precedence set for that event to occur.
And be warned: there is a lot of promiscuous and violent sexuality in this book. It's actually one of the things that will either interest you (because it's so different) or turn you away. Again, it does play into the characters and their dilemmas as their sexual activities are intertwined with the plot. This is a book about Dr. Altman and his “concubines” after all.
Dr. Altman, the lecherous, voyeuristic b@$^%d, provides us with the best part of the entire book by simply ceasing to be alive. Until that point, this book and its plot seemed to be flat-lining. After his death, things really do pick up. There's a sense of urgency, danger, mystery, and intrigue as we worry who might be next if the killer isn't stopped. That whole thing was a success on the author's part.
You can check this book out on Amazon!