Writing Analysis: Fifty Fifty by Steve Cavanagh

A look at the writing techniques used by Steve Cavanagh in his novel Fifty Fifty

Hey! Welcome back. Due to personal circumstances, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. But I’m glad to announce that I’m finally back and will be delivering fresh content to you every week! You’ll notice my posts will be divided into three types:

  1. Comprehensive posts covering writing tips and techniques which will include analyses of relevant applications from published works. These posts will also include breakdowns of writing advice from established authors and summaries of research I have undertaken into certain writing subjects
  2. Writing analyses of fictional works. These will be similar to book reviews but from a writing perspective and will look at different techniques the author has used, what has worked and what hasn’t, and the overall impact of the techniques on the story
  3. Shorter posts that will cover writing tips and techniques in a more compact format.

As always, selected texts are based on my reading preferences and I am not affiliated with the author or publisher in any way. So let’s kick this off with a writing analysis! Before we start, I would like to mention that there may be spoilers included in this post.  I have tried my best not to give away specifics, but in analysing the writing I have had to draw attention to certain elements and events that may impact your reading of the story. Heads up!

Today we’re looking at thriller novel Fifty Fifty written by Steve Cavanagh. Fifty Fifty is book five in Cavanagh’s ‘Eddie Flynn’ series, which follows ex-conman turned criminal defence attorney Eddie Flynn as he fights for his clients. The blurb on Goodreads is as follows:

‘Two sisters on trial for murder. Both accuse each other. Who do YOU believe? Alexandra Avellino has just found her father’s mutilated body, and needs the police right away. She believes her sister killed him, and that she is still in the house with a knife. Sofia Avellino has just found her father’s mutilated body and needs the police right away. She believes her sister, Alexandra did it, and that she is still in the house, locked in the bathroom. Both women are to go on trial at the same time. A joint trial in front of one jury. But one of these women is lying. One of them is a murderer. Sitting in a jail cell, about to go on trial with her sister for murder, you might think that this is the last place she expected to be. You’d be wrong.’

A quick look back at my post ‘3 things to include and how to include them when writing later books in a series’ will remind us that when writing later books in a series it is important to include the following three things:

  1. Any major events that have affected the relationship between characters or that impact the storyline of the current novel
  2. Anything in a character’s background that is crucial to understand the character’s behaviour or situation
  3. If there are recurring bad guys – who are they, what’s their story in a nutshell and what’s their issue with the protagonist.

For point one, Cavanagh has ensured that the reader is aware of the important relationships in Flynn’s life, how they came about and how they evolved to their current state.  He does this simply and seamlessly with a sentence or two, incorporated naturally into the text, giving the reader enough information to understand the background. This includes his closest friend, love interest, ex-wife and daughter.

Points two and three are addressed together. While there are no recurring bad guys, there was one who impacted Flynn’s mental health and moral compass, as well as his relationship with his family. I have only read books four and five of this series so I am unsure which of the first three books this bad guy appeared in, although from the blurbs I assume it is book one or two. Regardless, I didn’t need to read either book to gain an understanding of what had happened and its subsequent effects as Cavanagh integrated the backstory through Flynn’s reflections and internal dialogue.

Fifty Fifty reads well as a stand-alone and fits into the overall series; let’s take a look at which techniques worked for this novel and which didn’t hit the mark.

Techniques that worked:

In terms of characterisation, this would have been difficult as one of the sisters was lying and so dialogue wouldn’t have been able to reflect the characters accurately.  To remedy this and show the depravity of the murderer, Cavanagh has written his novel from two points of view: Flynn’s, which is written in first person, and the murderer’s (chapters titled ‘She’), which is written in third person. Not only is this a great way to maintain the fact that this is Flynn’s series, it also develops the character of the murderer without giving away her identity.  In the ‘She’ chapters, Cavanagh uses his character’s behaviour to reflect her personality, a solid example being the scene when ‘She’ goes to the toilet calmly while there is a dead body in the bathtub beside her.

Cavanagh also uses imagery through this novel to reflect the two sisters and the trial progression. A raven and a parrot are seen by the characters at different times. Then one stormy night, towards the end of the trial and as one of the characters is about to be murdered, the raven attacks and eats the parrot at the doorstep of a potential victim. This imagery also serves as an omen of what is to come.

Techniques that fell short:

In developing time and place, Cavanagh makes an error in one of his character’s hairstyles. At a formal event, Flynn’s love interest has her hair ‘tied up in intricate curls and studded with bright stones’. Fifty Fifty is set in 2019, and this hairstyle hasn’t been fashionable since the 1990s; in fact there are memes about how tacky ‘intricate curls’ are compared to the current fashion of brushing curls out i.e ‘beach waves’. While this is something not all readers will notice, it pulled me out of the story. You wouldn’t use outdated dialogue or clothing in your novel, so ensure you don’t wreck the entire vibe with something as simple as a hairstyle – Google search if you need to!

There is also an unrealistic scene in Fifty Fifty; ‘She’ states in one of her chapters that her sister was holding a ‘blue rabbit plush’ when their mother died, but later in the book the sister states that she was around 14 at the time of their mother’s death. It’s unrealistic for a girl that age in these times to be carrying around a plush toy. If you don’t have personal experience or firsthand knowledge of the age category of any character you are writing, make sure you do your research. Both girls in this novel are at the appropriate developmental level for their age and the story is set in 2019; when you do the maths, a teenager would not be holding a ‘blue rabbit plush’ in that time period.

But the error that had the largest impact on this novel is what I believe to be an editorial one. which leads to a HUGE spoiler. Before I get to it, I’d like to stress that when genre writing, you should expect that your reader knows your genre, so you must know it even better. You also need to understand your reader. Someone who is reading a thriller is trained to look for clues as to who the murderer is and what really happened. We are expecting to find hints along the way to the conclusion and so are always on the lookout; we would love to solve the mystery before it is revealed! Therefore there is no way that I was the only one (or even one of a handful of readers) who will have noticed this error, and the reason I am classifying it as an editorial error is that Cavanagh knows his genre and his reader. As a writer, sometimes we are too close to the story and miss things along the way. Therefore an editor or proofreader should pick up any inconsistencies or errors (especially spoilers) during their review.

This is the error: during a ‘She’ chapter, the murderer states that she felt disgust at her sister’s reaction to their mother’s death and reiterates that her teenage sister was holding a ‘blue rabbit plush’ at the time. In a following chapter from Flynn’s point of view, around the 37% mark, his client tells him that her sister was holding a ‘blue rabbit plush’ when their mother died… put two and two together and you realise that Flynn’s client is the murderer. Damn if that didn’t just wreck the whole story! As far as editorial errors go, this is possibly the worst one I have come across; to completely spoil an otherwise quite promising novel at 37% is a shame.

Have you come across any examples of the above techniques, either used effectively or that have fallen short? If you’ve read Fifty Fifty,did you notice any of the above techniques? Please comment below, I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,

Nathalie

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