We have a very in-depth review for you guys from an addition to the BreakevenBooks team. Our new reviewer Chris Connors decided to take on Booth by Jason Pellegrini.
Synopsis: At dawn, on the day of his execution, Joseph Bateman finds himself reflecting on his life, one filled with poor decisions and evil people. Even his lifelong best friend played a pivotal role in earning Joseph his seat on death row. A phenomenon occurs as the electricity meant to kill Joseph is sent through him, and his essence is ripped from the body he has known his entire life and thrown into a new one. Only the body he now inhabits isn’t new at all; it is the body of a person who lived over a hundred years before Joseph’s birth. Now living in an unfamiliar era of history and trapped inside a foreign body, Joseph learns he has been sent back for a reason: to earn redemption for his damned soul and to find a sense of peace he has never known. All he needs to do to get there is to prevent one of history’s most infamous murders.
The book blurb captured my imagination right away. Obviously, Joseph William Bateman’s redemption is hinged on stopping John Wilkes Booth—note the initials of both names– from killing Abraham Lincoln, but since Booth did kill Lincoln does this mean Joseph didn’t get redemption? Is there an alternate timeline involved? Was redemption in an unexpected form, maybe a surprise twist? I looked forward to seeing how Pellegrini dealt with this.
The first half of the book starts out with Joseph on death row contemplating how he got there, and the writing in the first few chapters pulls you right into the story.
Murdering one man did not get him to where he was in life (although he’d soon learn he was actually very wrong about that). A long series of unfortunate events had landed him on Death Row. So Joseph Bateman, in the closing hour of his life, chose to reflect.
The small details about his early love for jelly beans (his mother called him Joey Beans), the description of their taste and what jelly beans meant to Joseph are well-crafted, putting you in touch with the child whose imagination helped him escape a bad parental situation by turning the Moon into a giant sweet sugary jellybean that was slowly eaten away only to return anew. Through these chapters, we see how childhood and young adulthood events shaped Joseph’s life and led him to the electric chair.
As Joseph grows older we see him fighting to be nothing like his abusive father, fighting to get away and become his own man, to live happily ever after with his early childhood best friend and later his lover. You feel for Joseph knowing, like Romeo and Juliet, that his dreams will not come true and he is his father’s son, but you still root for him hoping it’ll somehow work out despite him being a few hours from his execution.
It is a great start and whatever Pellegrini did for these first few chapters needs to be applied to the other chapters because the rest of the book seems clunky by comparison. His use of long and short sentences that pull the reader into the story, in the beginning, fades away as the chapters continue; much of the sentence structure is the same type with little variation, and the compelling rhythm is lost.
Subtlety is not put to good use in this book. We’re whacked over the head with the obvious on numerous occasions. Considering Joseph is on death row at the start of the book then foreshadowing his fate with statements like “…just one more step on the path that would lead Joseph to death row” over and over seems a bit of overkill (so to speak).
The descriptions of the abuse his father metes out on his mother are cartoonishly over-the-top. He doesn’t just rape, kick and beat her, but also brings home his gambling buddies to rape her. I worked as a Direct Care Worker for 8 years with youth in the justice system and on the streets and I know these things happen. What makes the book scenario so unbelievable is that 1) the father doesn’t abuse the kids (an abusive man doesn’t make that distinction), and 2) the mother stays with him despite all this.
There are women who will stay with abusive men till she’s killed. However, Joseph’s mom, Emily Bateman, is portrayed as a saint, a good woman, a great mother. You don’t have those qualities and still, put up with such violence and torture for many years. The women who do stay around to be tortured are often so damaged they’re not capable of being good and kind on a long-term or even regular basis.
In this case, I think Pellegrini could have written less while implying more horror without bludgeoning the reader with the abuse. The father could have been given more of a dimensional character to help us see why Emily didn’t leave him. That being said there are still well-written gems popping out in these sections like how Joseph runs out into the yard to find his sister during a particularly horrible beating of their mother; they end up cuddled together in the trunk of an old car comforting one another. Quite
touching, well done.
So Joseph’s reflections– not reminiscences, he tells us (another nice bit of writing detail that makes Joseph a real flesh-and-blood character)—proceed in a chronological order till his execution. The second half of the book deals with Joseph’s death and the transferal of his soul into the late 1800s where he is expected to stop an assassination. I was looking forward to this half of the book.
We meet up with a mysterious figure (the man with eyes) who Joseph has unknowingly met a few times before. This is his guide, called J, a 2,000-year-old soul who betrayed a friend, whose own path to redemption comes from helping others find their redemption (J’s actual name isn’t given, but it’s obvious). Given J’s behavior though I suspect he won’t be finding his own redemption anytime soon. He tells Joseph a few times to watch out for Booth, that Booth will do anything to stop him. However, none of that is true (no spoilers so I can’t elaborate). His early cryptic statements aren’t helpful. He tells Joseph the walls will fall and Joseph will see (I was hoping J would say, “Shaka, when the walls fell; Sokath, his eyes open”, but I guess 2,000-year-old souls don’t keep up with pop culture references).
There’s also a scene where J kills someone by twisting a knife into their stomach and letting them bleed out so the soul can be set free to embark upon a task. Yes, it was necessary, but what happened to a warm bath, a nice bottle of wine, and slitting your wrists? Or a bullet? J will never get redemption if he keeps this up.
This second half of the book is the weakest section. We’re told many times (again) that Joseph is an expert on Booth so knows all of Booth’s movements before and after the assassination. The whole section reads like it was taken from a history book without any fleshing out of characters: he went there, then he saw this, then he did that, next he rode here, he met a doctor, he left a doctor. Bizarrely Joseph re-enacts all of Booth’s movements for the silliest of reasons. If you’re going to change history why not do everything different?
Perhaps a way to improve both sections is to alternate the chapters. Instead of a long chronological recounting of Joseph’s childhood followed by a chronological accounting of his actions in the 1800s, it could be possible to jump back and forth. You end one chapter of Joseph’s childhood wanting to know what happened next, but first you have to read a chapter of him in the past (which when it ends you want to know what happens next, but your next chapter is back to the childhood). It would build and maintain suspense, keep the reader turning pages, make thematic connections between the past and present, and slowly let the story unravel rather than laying everything down in plain sight. It would make us feel we’re traveling between times as the author could add flesh and detail to both worlds.
Fortunately, Pellegrini pulls it back together for the final act. I don’t want to give spoilers, but he delivers an ending and an epilogue worthy of the hopes I had for the book when I first read the blurb. I thought I knew where he was going, and I was partly right, but he still surprised me.
Overall, I liked the concept. It is fairly original. There is some good writing in the book, and an editor would help the author bring that quality writing to the sections that were lacking. I suspect Jason Pellegrini is still on the steep learning curve of writing and will improve immensely with practice. He’s shown he can write well. Now he just needs to do it consistently. I look forward to reading his future books.
Book Rating: 3.75/5
And that is our wonderful review by Chris Connors!
Disclaimer: This book was sent to Breakeven Books by the author Jason Pellegrini for an honest review.