Review of 'Phantom Echo' (Eldon Farrell)
Overall Rating: 3/4
A solid read. Recommended.
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Book Title: Phantom Echo: A Sci-Fi Thriller
Author Name: Eldon Farrell
Publication Date: February 23, 2021
Summary (no spoilers): Nathan Miller is a police officer that likes to go with his gut; when a college student with no priors is murdered, he suspects the answers are not as simple as his superiors suggest. Following his hunch will take him across international borders and force him to question if justice is worth bending the law -- or even breaking it.
Phantom Echo is a solid read. Farrell is masterful at trimming the fat so that every chapter packs a punch and keeps the story moving forward. If you like quick reads, this book can easily be devoured in one sitting. While the prose is not poetic, the writing is well-developed and reflects the care and attention to detail Farrell invested in this piece. Great editing.
I say questionable because, while our scorecard aims for as much objectivity as possible, reviewing a book is inevitably a very subjective experience. Let me be clear: this book was a solid read. Our only criticism is that it's listed as a 'sci-fi' thriller, but the sci-fi elements are so understated that it's easy to forget they're there.
Periodically, an element pops up to remind the reader that this is sci-fi; however, for the most part, this book reads like any other police cat-and-mouse story. If the sci-fi elements were removed, nothing about the story would change. For this reason, die hard sci-fi readers might be disappointed with this read.
That being said, as a television adaptation (which this novel could very well end up being, given the quality level) the sci-fi would definitely come through better and make for a super engaging sci-fi flick.
This book can teach an aspiring writer many positive things about writing good genre fiction (great editing, solid plotting), but the thing we think Farrell does best is trim the fat.
Every writer has likely heard of 'killing your darlings'. This is the old adage cautioning writers that if something doesn't serve the overall story, it needs to be cut no matter how much the writer loves it. This could be a character that doesn't contribute to the story (cutting them doesn't change the story in any significant way), a pretty line with well-constructed prose that doesn't suit the tone of the story or is bogged down in detail, or even cutting entire scenes that don't move the story forward because they lack meaningful change or conflict.
In Phantom Echo, Farrell undoubtedly killed some darlings to keep the scenes so quick and engaging. In fact, though our team questioned the lack of sci-fi elements, omitting them still felt like a smart, calculated move on Farrell's part. Any number of superfluous world-building elements could have been thrown in to bolster the sci-fi atmosphere; however, the fact that the story proceeds so well without them is a testament to how unnecessary those details would have been to the overall story.
Many readers profess skipping descriptive elements in books if they feel unimportant to the main story; while brainstorming lots of cool sci-fi gadgets and settings might have been a fun exercise in world-building for the author, we applaud Farrell for recognizing that letting readers infer some of the finer details can actually make for a better story.
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