“Please know that no one will be coming to your aid.”
That’s a chilling thing to read. It’s especially chilling when you read it in a letter meant for you and five fellow castaways after you’ve all awoken to find yourselves on a beach with no recollection of how you got there or who these people are that are with you.
This line comes early in Bait, not long after an opening that, while effective, gives away a little too much about what’s coming in the pages ahead. The same can be said for the copy on the back cover, where the art of the tease is all but discarded and the entire premise of the book is laid out for you. A book like Bait is structured so that its reveals are an important part of the reading experience, but when that is taken away from you in the opening minutes the book is hobbled as a result.
That’s not to say that Bait is not an entertaining read; it is. But the potential was there for so much more. Two critical mistakes were made in the book, one being the too-quick giveaway of the premise in the cover copy and in that first chapter. The second mistake is one that’s harder to overcome: in the entire group of six that find themselves in this situation, it’s hard to find one character that’s likable enough to root for. When the whole book is built around the idea that you’re following these people in a struggle for survival, there needs to be someone for the reader to identify with, and Messum doesn’t supply that.
I think now is a good time to point out that I don’t think this book is a total loss. Messum has a clean, quick-moving style, and Bait is very cinematic as a result. It’s a fast, fun read with spots of real tension sprinkled throughout. But again, the lack of relateable characters and the removal of most of the suspense keeps this from being much more than a disposable summer read.
J. Kent Messum has a lot of potential, and I’ll be curious to see what he does next. Bait is neither a total success nor a total failure. It’s a promising start, and hopefully Messum can hammer out some of the kinks and hit the ground running with his next novel.