Letter from Hell, by M. Lee Mendelson

Short Take:  Awesome Dude Is Awesome – The Super-Extended Version!



I snagged this one when it was offered for free (count frugality among my positive attributes).  I thought that the idea was intriguing.  A suicide, an investigator, and a letter detailing exactly how fate works.  

And the first chapter was GREAT.  Little known fact:  I used to work with the police (not as a cop though, I don’t like guns).  And that first chapter was actually pretty true to life, which was cool.  No Dirty Harry heroics, no super-sleuthing geniuses, just Mike the cop doing his job, even when he’s a little freaked out.  Although I never knew a cop on his way to a domestic dispute to take a minute to joke around with a security guard.

Then I started Chapter 2, and the whole thing took a quick dive into the deepest wish-fulfilling Mary Sue depths.  You see, Mike was a fat nerdy kid.  He was bullied & humiliated at school.  Until the day he decides to take his life into his own hands, and start working out and eating right.  Within just a few short weeks, his gorgeous successful parents are suddenly proud of him for the first time, he is the star of the football team, and the hot new girl  across the street – excuse me, ALL the hot girls in school – are all up on his junk.  And he learns martial arts too, and wins the bully’s respect and they became best buds.  College is the same.   After he’s injured playing football, and his father is killed, he becomes a police officer while going to law school part-time.  He graduates and marries a gorgeous ADA.  And everywhere Mike goes, everyone thinks he’s amazing.  (This paragraph is spread out in the book to well over 100 pages.  It’s even more tedious than you imagine.)

Did I mention how awesome Mike is?  Cause the author sure does.  All.  The.  Time.  I mean, when he goes to meet with a DA regarding a criminal, the book actually reads: “Unknown to Mike was the fact that all the ladies at the District Attorney’s Office spoke very highly about him. Every time he would go there for a deposition, they would secretly gather to drool over him.”  But the thing is, Mike’s kind of a terrible person. His sole purpose in life seems to be basking in the glory of being himself.

Then when we finally get caught up to the present day with the incomparably perfect Mike, the narrative switches to his wife Meredith, who’s also gorgeous and perfect and we get another 100 pages of her life story including getting ready for the wedding, which is ANOTHER total snoozefest of perfect perfection.  And also another way to elaborate on how flawlessly perfect Mike is.  

I’m not going to dwell on the dialogue other than to say it was painful.  Ridiculously stilted, every character sounds the same, none of it sounds natural, and all the guys call each other Bro or Brother.  All of the characters are completely flat.  None of them has a distinct voice or personality (with the sole exception of a really racist – and thankfully brief – depiction of an Asian man).  All of the women are decorative and worship Mike.

The language of the book is weird. Mr. Mendelson just randomly throws adverbs in there, in ways that make no sense at all.  For example, when the main character is asked if he was THE Michael Carson, college football star, we get this gem: “Mike favorably responded, ‘Yes, sir, that’s me.’”  I…. don’t even know how to parse that one.

The worst though is the unending list of ridiculous details.  When they are dating, Mike sends Meredith flowers.  That’s nice.  Do we need to know the significance of different colors of roses, or the thought process that leads to his final choice of flower?  (Pink roses, should you wonder.  Should that have a spoiler alert?  I don’t even care anymore.)  And reciting dates and times for everything is completely mind-numbing.

And the author somehow manages to not say that the cop investigating the suicide is a different Mike.  For the entire book.  I have no idea what the purpose of that was, other than to be “clever” and mislead the reader. I don’t even know if that’s a spoiler, as I have no idea what the relevance of it was.

I could probably go on for quite a while, cataloging this book’s flaws.  But what it all comes down to is that the author has a story to tell, but no depth at all in his writing.  It’s like reading a book written by an alien who observed earth for a few weeks, wrote a story, then ran it through google translate in a few different languages.  It’s a glimpse inside the mind of someone who’s never had an actual conversation, or a relationship, or spent any time at all with a human person.  

The actual story (the cult investigation) was shoved in a little here & there.  And by the time I reached the last 40 pages or so, when bad things started happening to Mike & Meredith, I couldn’t muster the energy to care.  They had zero personality and no redeeming traits whatsoever.

I have to give credit where credit is due, though.  There WERE some creepy aspects to this book – for example, the author’s fixation on the bosom of a fifteen year old girl.  And his obsession with how hot Mike’s mother was.  So if that’s your thing, go for it.  Otherwise, skip this one.

The Nerd’s Rating: ONE HAPPY NEURON (and a big vodka drink.  I seriously need one right now.)




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