Saturday, October 16, 2010

Book Review: Once Wicked Always Dead by T. Marie Benchley

Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: MMWE Publishing House (September 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0984478701
ISBN-13: 978-0984478705
List Price: $24.95

Muse Reviews Rating: 1 Laurel

Publisher's Description

Molly Madison is unaware of the Sociopath who is on the loose, creating havoc with a sense of their own justice. Her life is shattered by the sudden death of her beloved parents and the revelation of her husband Phillip's affair - with another man - Molly leaves the life of Country Clubs and the luxury of city life in Florida and heads west to Montana, resolved to run the family ranch, and to move on with her life. Her attraction to Clayton Leatherbe, the ranch foreman, is instant, but before a romance can blossom, the ranch falls prey to sabotage by wealthy land developers determined to drive Molly out, and Clayton learns of a family secret and collides with the Sociopath that could put the ranch - and Molly's life - in jeopardy.

WARNING: This review contains spoilers and discusses graphic material which may not be suitable for general audiences.

Once Wicked, Always Dead is T. Marie Benchley's debut novel and, if her second manuscript is anything like the first, it may be her last.  According to Benchley's public bio on, she has graduate degrees in journalism and marketing.  No matter how good she looks on paper, T. Marie Benchley is an amateur writer.  Although the concept for Once Wicked, Always Dead had the potential to result in a gripping thriller, Benchley tries too hard for sophistication and comes across as ponderous instead.    

Once Wicked, Always Dead is the convoluted story of a Florida socialite who, after the death of her parents and learning of her husband's homosexual affair with his assistant, retreats to her family's cattle ranch in Montana to lick her wounds.  Once there, she proceeds to fall in love with the ranch foreman.  As Molly is coping with the fallout from her divorce and the death of her father, she is being stalked by a rival rancher, her husband's jilted ex-lover, and a serial murderer who is killing anyone the murderer sees as a "pervert" - including the jilted lover.  In a plot twist Benchley probably intended to be clever, but which comes across as trite, the female serial killer is connected to Molly via an illicit affair Molly's father had with the woman's alcoholic mother.

From the first page, until I finally gave up on this novel right after the gratuitous bestiality scene in chapter forty-four (there are 56 chapters plus a prologue and epilogue), the mantra tattooing itself on my brain was "show, don't tell."  I have a degree in creative writing and spent six months as an editorial intern at a literary publishing house.  Once Wicked, Always Dead reads like some of the rough drafts I critiqued in my first-year writing class.  I can't imagine my writing professors - let alone a professional editor - letting anyone get away with so much passive narration.  I wanted to scream at Benchley to go take a freakin' writing class already! 

I really wanted to like this book but the writing is just awful.  If the vague descriptions of critical scenes such as when Clayton, the ranch foreman, first hears of the death of a man he considers a second father were not enough to turn me off, the head-hopping, artificial dialogue, and ineffective characterization are.  In one scene, Benchly shows Molly needing her husband Phillip's help to walk because she is grief-stricken over her father's death.  A paragraph later, she's admiring Clayton's ass and checking out his "package."  Not. Bloody. Likely.  Later, Molly shakes off the trauma of hearing her husband has been carrying on a homosexual affair with his assistant by trading in her luxury car for a red pickup, packing her bags, and taking a week-long road trip.  Say what?

What ticked me off more than anything was the character of Sloan, Phillip's gay lover.  I realize this cliched character is meant to be an antagonist, but Benchley's depiction of Sloan's self-absorption and lack of morality demonstrates flagrant ignorance of and insensitivity toward the gay community.  Sloan embodies every degrading stereotype of the homosexual man and lacks a single redeeming quality.  I got the impression Benchley took her inspiration for him from an episode of Jerry Springer.  When Sloan engages in bestiality with a calf on Molly's ranch, I threw the waste of paper that is Once Wicked, Always Dead across the room and called it done.  Although Benchley tries to make up for Sloan by pairing Phillip with a more respectable partner after he and Sloan end their relationship, her overall portrayal of the gay community is unforgivably offensive.

I recommend readers avoid Once Wicked, Always Dead like the proverbial plague.  Even the fact that T. Marie Benchley is donating a portion of the money from book sales to the Shriners Hospitals isn't enough to save this book.

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