Charlie Chaplin’s Uncle. Okell, Ian. Feedaread.com, 2012. 362 pages. Available on Amazon in book and Kindle formats, for $14.95 and $6.70, respectively, in the US. Click the image to the left to go directly to the Amazon page.
Reviews of terrible books are sometimes painful, sometimes hilarious events, as the reader has to endure the reviewer’s report of the horrors he experienced at the hands of an incompetent wordsmith. As luck would have it, neither you nor I will have to worry about that this time, though, as Charlie Chaplin’s Uncle is a rollicking good time! The story is set in England in 1892, when railroads ruled the world of industry and were the objects of romance and adventure, and the British Empire stretched around the globe. The main character is a brother Mason, an ex-sailor of the Queen’s Navy, and a train driver by the name of Mr. Fowler, and he is plunged into a rather gripping tale of cloak-and-dagger espionage and royal assassination.
To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what railroads, Charlie Chaplin, and Freemasonry were doing in the same story. Having finished the book, I can assure you that while there are no indelible links between this story and a real, historical event from Charlie Chaplin’s childhood (he appears in the story as a toddler), it does not matter, because the story and Okell’s ability to turn a phrase and write vivid characters sucks you in and keeps you wondering what will happen next. Okell’s witticisms and biting observations kept me laughing and looking for the next zinger, and the action of the story (and the climbing body count) kept the plot and the pages moving right along.
The book, though entertaining, is not devoid of short-comings. For instance, the author is not a fan of the rules of punctuation, and this alone keeps the book from achieving a certain level of professional polish. As can also be seen from the eventful, but confusing book description on the back cover, this book really needed a competent editor to clean it up and cut out some of the sections where the book kept going without adding anything to the story. Considering that the publisher is a print-on-demand firm, this bears repeating: if you are going to publish your own books, make EVERY effort to make it the most polished and professional product you can. An independent author wants people to spend their money on their book instead of the mass publishers' products, so give the people a good reason to do so. No matter how highly you think of your English skills, get at least one other person who knows when to use a comma to read it and find the problems you missed, because you will miss plenty. I read and reread the first edition of To Save A Life seven or eight times, and there were still little errors to be found in the text.
Since I'm already in a full digression, let me advise independent authors and publishers to try this piece of advice: not only get an editor who doesn't speak Twitter hashtag language, but when you think your book is perfect, let it sit for a month. Don't touch it, don't work on it, don't print it and ship it. Forget it exists. Let your mind clear out all the details you thought you had written down and put into your story, and then come back and read it again, this time with fresh eyes. Those spelling errors or your overuse of semi-colons will jump out at you, and you will have a chance to better evaluate whether everything you put into the story works as well as you thought it did, or if there's more work to be done. If after fixing all the little hobgoblins that were hiding in your manuscript, your story brings a big smile to your face when you finish reading it, you will know that this is indeed the story you wanted to tell.
For these faults, one thing must be kept in mind: the most important thing in telling a story is to tell a good story. While rough around the edges, I would highly recommend Charlie Chaplin’s Uncle for any reader looking for adventure and a good time.