Book Review – Telling Lies by L. A. Dobbs

This is my second book review and it’s a murder mystery tale. It’s set in a small town where the police department is understaffed, the mayor is a dick, and there’s corruption afoot likely fueled by drug money . . . so, pretty much like every town — big or small — in the world. 

This is the first of a three books series (soon to be four) by the author and they appear to be self-published. As I previously mentioned, there’s nothing wrong with self-publishing and it’s something I’m definitely interested in monitoring. 

As you can see from the above, this also has a high rating from 360 customer reviews. Additionally, the reviews appear legitimate:

And, the author is also on Goodreads where there are a lot more reviews (2,000+) and they match Amazon’s Four-Star rating. 

I should mention that I do not look up the author when I pick these books to read. I look at the plot summary and the rating. 

Here, I can at least understand the reason for the mostly favorable reviews. The writing is clean and the characters — although predictable and somewhat narrowly presented — are somewhat fleshed out and relatable, and the plot . . . well, it’s a murder mystery. Rather, two murder mysteries. 

Having said all that . . . 

While fleshed out, the characters are . . . well, I wouldn’t want to rely on their deductive powers to figure anything out. On the personal side, there’s what seems to me the foundation of a relationship between the two characters despite their insistence that there’s nothing there and they are just friends. So, that’s the romantic angle. On the professional side, Jody is supposed to be the female version of Lie To Me character Cal Lightman, the world’s leading deception expert who studies facial expressions and involuntary body language to expose the truth behind the lies.

Her expertise shines through when — after interviewing the suspects — she flat out states that they might be hiding something. Well, except for one, they weren’t. At least, nothing related to the murder. Also, Jody didn’t pick out or single out the one that was lying (I won’t spoil it here). So, that was a bit of a let-down.  

Sam Mason, the titular character (they are his mysteries) has no outstanding character traits, abilities, or anything related to making him a good cop. Well, Jody thinks he has extraordinary powers of observation (think The Mentalist) but I’m not trusting her judgment and I saw no such power in evidence. In fact, although in the book Sam is credited with solving the murder, he has very little agency and what little he has does nothing to put him close to solving the crime. Sam and Jody are — at best — mediocre cops.

So how does the murder get solved?

Canis ex machina. 

Literally, I kid you not. The book should have been titled A Lucy Murder Mystery.

You see, Lucy is a stray they find near the crime scene (a camper has been killed). The stray entices Sam — using the ole “Timmy fell into the well” meme — to follow her and she leads him to the victim’s clothes. This is after the cops are standing around near the murder scene openly voicing “Say, where are her clothes?” 

Lucy (they name her after they bring her back to the police department) leading them to the clothes hands them their first break in the case. There’s a side plot that has Lucy the Wonder Dog being taken to the pound because the mayor thinks it lacks professionalism having a dog in the station. Here’s the thing with that . . . it’s a contrivance to reinforce the fact that the mayor is a dick. I say that because at no time did any of the town’s people come to the police station to see if they had a dog or not. It’s a ridiculous objection that is further amplified by the mayor stating they don’t have money in the budget for a dog. This actually comes into play later. 

So, having found the clothes, Sam and Jody set about finding out . . . nothing. They don’t find anything. They’ve hit the proverbial brick wall. 

It suddenly dawns on them . . . say, why didn’t we find the victim’s phone? Everyone has a phone, right? Well, no use looking for it because the killer obviously disposed of it, probably because there was something incriminating on it. 

Wouldn’t you know it, Lucy escapes the pound and Sam get’s a report about a dog running around loose by the river. Why, it’s Lucy! She barks her “Timmy’s down the well” bark and there, where Lucy is standing at the edge of the river, under a few inches of water, there’s a phone. Could it be? Why yes, it’s the victim’s phone.   

After some pseudo-techno stuff, they are able to pull data from the phone and off they go following the new clues as Lucy goes back to the pound (everyone is really sad about that and they all wish they could adopt her but their lives are so complicated, you see, that it’s better if Lucy goes to the pound — where she might be put down — instead of them adopting her and then, FSM-forbid, she would have to be alone for most of the day). 

Well, after following all these new clues to dead ends, the team is once again stumped. 

Wouldn’t you know it, Lucy escapes the pound, nearly gets hit by a car whose driver calls the cops (I’ve hit a dog, OMG!), Sam and Jody anxiously rush to the scene where they find a distraught driver . . . but, it turns out he didn’t actually hit the dog. Still, the experience has him really shaken up. Where is Lucy? Why, she’s down a ravine and won’t come up. She barks her “Timmy’s down the well” bark and  Sam goes down and get her and there, where Lucy is standing at the edge of the river, another important clue. 

I, the reader, now know who’s the murderer. I really don’t care why, but I can guess (I did and I was right). A while later, Sam has a hunch and reaches the same conclusion. Everyone is amazed. 

Also, the rookie in the police department comes up with some grant that gives money to police departments for a K-9 unit. Never mind that Lucy is just a stray. She’s now a police dog. But, in all fairness, she did do all the work to solve this case. 

And she’s not done yet. Out of the blue and in an impossible to justify scene, she leads Sam and Jody to another clue, this one relating to the murder of their colleague. 

Now, I might have bought Lucy knowing about those other clues (she does run around a lot). I could even (but not really) buy the fact that Lucy knows the difference between a chew toy and a phone that is crucial to a murder investigation and that said phone might be of interest to the chief of police. I’ll even go out on a limb (literally) and charitably say the dog, having been rewarded for her previous clue-sniffing act, could find the last and crucial clue to solve the murder. 

What I can’t buy is the dog knowing about the last thing she leads Sam to, which, incidentally, sets up the next book.

Canis ex machina.

There are a few other minor irritations. Like, for instance, the author stresses how well Sam and Jody work together and how they trust each other’s intuition and insight . . . but then, Jody fails to share what I thought was a pretty big piece of information. Crucial, even. Her reasoning is that she doesn’t want to bother Sam with it until she has more information . . . but, later, tells him anyway and she’s learned zero additional information since her last decision. 

As I said, this book — in comparison to The Grave Man — is not badly written. It’s at least passibly edited (although, here too there seems to be a needless repetition of facts, likely to pad the word count) and shows what, in my opinion, is a sufficient mastery of the art of writing. But, did she not have Beta readers? Did no one tell her that what she wrote is actually a book about a savant dog as opposed to a book about a mildly competent cop? By competent, I mean able to follow clues the dog finds for him.  

It could be this was a labor of love, and she might have resisted listening to valid criticism of the plot, but that’s just speculation on my part. 

Again, I want to dispel the notion that this is sour grapes on my part (she’s published and I’m not). She wrote three books, got them out there, and people are reading them. Good for her. I wish her luck. Actually, she wrote other series as Leighann Dobbs and appears to be doing well. Or, at least sufficiently well. Certainly better than me. I have six readers, so I don’t have room to talk. 

I do, however, want to take a side trip and for that, I need to put on my accounting hat. Understand, this is pure speculation on my part.  

Let’s say I write a trilogy of books and give the first one away for free. It looks (and this is just pulling numbers based on ratings) that I would be able to sell (actually sell, not give away) around 600 books. At $5 a piece (based on Amazon’s numbers), the gross sales for the two (actually, three) books amounts to $3,000. Say that I get to keep 75% of that (I don’t know how accurate that is) and my gross profits are going to be around $2,250.

That’s for three books and giving one away . . . but I would need to edit and prep all three. Assuming I hired an editor, and assuming I was judicious in my hiring, I might be able to get away with $700 editing fee per book (the going rate here in the US appears to be closer to $2,500) which translates to $2,100 in editing. You can get a professional cover done on the cheap for about $100 (so add $300 to the cost) and you can get the book formatted for the various e-readers for another $150 (so add $450 to the cost). 

Well, now . . . I’m up at $2,840 in cost and I’ve not even hit the cost of promoting the books . . . I see a disconnect there. 

Again, I stress that I’m pulling these numbers out of my posterior and don’t know for a fact what the sales are or even the average price of the works (I picked $4.99 but one sells for $3.99 and a new one is coming out at $2.99)

I also don’t know if everyone who bought the books bothered to leave a rating (Amazon does nag you nearly on a daily basis) so the sales could be much higher.  

Let’s be generous and say that her sales are ten times that, or 6,000 books (that’s based on the assumption that one-in-ten people who buy the books bothers to leave a rating) and let’s say the average price is $3.00. 

Well, now, the numbers get a lot better . . . for those three books, she would pull in $18,000. That’s workable, especially if she has many more books that she’s also selling (she does). 

BUT . . . now I get back to “how does she do it?” 

How does she get 6,000 people to buy the sequels to this book (assuming that’s a valid number)? I ask because I’m not impressed with this first book. It was free and I still feel like I paid something (my time) and even if the sequels were free (they aren’t) I would not pay that cost again. 

I’m obviously missing something. 

Here it is again, my disclaimer:
I’m not complaining, cursing my wretched fate, asking for advice, wanting sympathy, or — as some are sure to assume — burning with jealousy and envy. The author has struck a chord with some readers and more power to her; I wish her continued luck and success. This is primarily a book review and the subsequent commentary is just me being me. While I can’t recommend the book, if it sounds interesting, you should buy it (it’s free) and then let me know what you think. 

Anyway, I’m off to add a dog to all the books I’ve written. 

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