Nicola West, Catch Us the Foxes (2021)

Author: Nicola West

Title: Catch Us The Foxes 

Format: E-book

Pages: 384

Series: –

Firstly, an announcement. Catch Us the Foxes is officially the worst book I’ve read this year – I know, I know, the year hasn’t ended yet, but I sincerely hope I won’t read anything worse than this – and it really had some solid contenders for this dubious award. But none of the other horrible books of 2021 seems written specifically with money in mind and nothing else. Well, there’s always a first. Now that the weight is off my chest and I can breathe freely, I can muster my writing skill to explain why I think that you should avoid this book like a plague.

And to think that it all started so innocuously. I was asked to review a thriller written by an Australian writer about “a small Aussie town and its secrets – and I thought, “what can go wrong?” What indeed. The list of what didn’t would be much, much shorter, but as I really need to share my misery with you, you’ll be treated to at least some of the cardinal sins of Catch Us the Foxes.

Sin no. 1. Total lack of research. The plot of Catch Us the Foxes is built around a villainous quasi-religious cult comprising all the most important adult people in the small town of Kiama, NSW. Said cult traces its roots to English colonists who brought from the British Isles their pagan rituals of celebrating Beltane. In West’s novel, Beltane is celebrated by organizing a typical 17th century fox hunt through the Australian rainforest, complete with hunting horns and whole the aristocratic attire, though without horses (don’t ask me about the sensibility of the idea of wearing riding boots for a trek through Australian outback, or white leggings, for that matter); but as apparently foxes aren’t good enough for the nefarious purposes of the cult, the cult hunts little girls dressed in white dresses and fox masks, quoting the biblical Song of Solomon in the process. Human sacrifice is obviously a must, as is the branding of the survivors with sacred geometrical runes. There is a slight problem with obtaining all the little girls for the hunt, and of course, as not all are killed at once, with erasing or suppressing their memories, but the cult has a well-known psychiatrist in their midst, and he’s simply a miracle worker and a head of a vast nest of psychiatric minions everywhere in NSW who will get him all the children he needs. 

The fox hunting attire: perfect for treks through Australian rainforest! (author: TJ Rawlins)

I seriously don’t know where to start with indicating what is wrong with this idea. Every single part of it showcases a total lack of thought and research on the author’s part. I read this, my eyes bleeding, and imagined the author coming up with this unholy mixture while sitting with a bottle of wine or something stronger, and then another, and another, because one bottle would clearly not be enough to come up with such idiotic concepts. Beltane, fox hunting, child abuse, psychiatrical ring of kidnappers, and Song of Solomon. Yeah, that’s a sure recipe for success!

Gondwana Rainforest in Australia © Tourism Queensland

Sin no. 2. Poor writing. The novel is written very badly, there’s no way around it. The dialogues seem forced and artificial, and the constant intrusion of slang words doesn’t make it come across as more authentic – just more juvenile. The author seemed unable to decide whether she wanted to write a slick thriller or a girly memoir, so she combined both styles and delivered a lifeless monstrosity. Like the bower bird mentioned in the novel, West just gathered all the shiny, colorful bits she could think of – but unlike the bird, she was unable to construct a cohesive or even remotely aesthetic structure from them. 

(A side note: The main character seems to constantly suffer from an undiagnosed digestive disease: there’s always either something lodged in her throat or in the pit of her stomach. She should really see someone.)

Sin no. 3. Flat, lifeless characters that quickly turn into stereotypes (often offensive and always painful to read). The protagonist is a very very special snowflake: a wondrously beautiful woman ogled by every male in town, even gay. She doesn’t realize her own beauty, because she is asexual and the only thing less appealing to her than men are women (it’s a loose quote, I really can’t be forced to page through this drivel again). She’s obviously very tenacious and smart, with a chip on her shoulder the size of the Empire State Building, and an inferiority complex toward her best female friend (who ends up dead at the very beginning, but that’s beside the point, as we’re treated to symptoms of that inferiority complex to the very, very end of the book). She’s also a psychopath, “genetically,” but as the author couldn’t really decide which would be better, and apparently couldn’t have been bothered to check the differences, she actually comes off more as a sociopath. 

One of her friends is gay from the tender age of five, as he already was being bullied about it even in preschool, because apparently in Australia one knows their sexual preferences and cultural norms regarding sex and gender since birth. As an adult he is the most outlandish walking stereotype of gay the author could come up with: he is a controversial artist making installations of blood-filled tampons, who wears a net singlet and Alexander Wang clothes to an arduous trek through the rainforest, he is emotional and irrational verging on hysterical, and he’s sexually promiscuous to the point of getting favors through sex. Also, among the town’s Nathans and Daniels he’s the only one with a non-Western/Christian name – Jarrah is a type of eucalyptus native to Australia. 

Another prominent male character is a middle-aged man obsessed with sex and his good looks; for a respected journalist who garnered loads of awards he’s unbelievably dumb and self-centred to the point of myopia, and almost comically unsure of his own manliness. There are virtually no other women in the novel except for a mentally ill and heavily medicated middle-aged woman, who ends up dead as well. Need I continue?

Sin no. 4. Shock value above all. The author clearly tried her best at coming up with the most convoluted scenario. She actually succeeded, but at the price of destroying all of the internal logic (however tenuous it was from the start), readers’ investment, and credibility. The final scenario is simply unbelievable enough to jarr even the most dedicated readers out of the reading experience. It’s not anchored in the earlier events, and it has no foundations whatsoever, be they psychological or circumstantial. I guess it goes without saying that there’s no character development here, consistency, or even a pinch of probability.

Sin no. 5. Demonizing otherness and subscribing to the conspiracy theory mentality. I mean, wow. If I were a Kiama inhabitant, I’d be considering a libel suit. Kiama is the root of all evil here; xenophobic and homophobic (it seems that the author doesn’t know the difference between the two), going as far in their hatred as to organize an impromptu lynch on a murder suspect. The resident gay had to escape to Sydney, and the second one adamantly refuses to be recognized as gay. All men are swine, and women are entirely without agency – with the exception of our special snowflake, of course. The town’s police are criminally inept. Also, let’s not forget Kiama is the nest of the nefarious cult. Clearly, there’s not one sane person in Kiama (well, maybe one, but he’s a crypto gay [which is clearly a minus in the author’s book, as she spends lots of time on this tidbit] and gullible to the point of idiocy, so he doesn’t count)!

There are many more sins, but this review is already too long. Let me wrap it up by saying that I am honestly astounded that this novel has been published. It should have been ruthlessly edited, and then edited again and again, and even then I’d think twice about pubbing it. This was my second Australian novel this year, and the record is dismal; I’m going to do a very careful research before I reach out for another Aussie book.

I have received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks.

Score: 1/10

38 thoughts on “Nicola West, Catch Us the Foxes (2021)

    1. Yes, it was a total disaster! Really, I find it hard to believe a publishing house such as Simon&Schuster actually decided to publish it. I only kept on reading to feel I did all I could to give this book a fair chance – otherwise I’d have DNF’d it at the very beginning.
      1/10 is rare indeed. I always try to find some redeeming qualities in even the worst books, but this one had none. Sigh. Hope my next books are going to be way better! 😉

      Like

  1. After reading your summary, I’m impressed you made it to the end. 😉 This sounds terrible. After a quick look on Goodreads I see it’s pretty divisive, but still receives a better than average score overall. 😕

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Goodreads scores are broken. If you’re allowed to rate a book that’s not even published… And if an author can rate their own book… Plus, I see that NG creates a kind of obligation in the reviewers: in my case it’s reading even such trashy books to the very end, but I noticed that in many people it just translates into ratings higher than would have been otherwise. Doubtless they think about the author’s feelings, but it’s not fair toward other readers who are misled in their expectations.
      Btw, that’s one of the reasons I promised to myself I’ll be always honest, even painfully so, when reviewing books 😁

      Liked by 3 people

      1. “Honesty is the best policy,” as the saying goes. I agree. 🙂 If a book isn’t good, I say so. Yeah, I don’t pay much attention to Goodreads anymore. It’s just curious when you see 4 or 5-star reviews for a book you thought was poor. It’s happened to me a few times and almost got me questioning my taste. Then I remember how flawed the whole rating system is and don’t worry about it. 👺

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Yup, I agree. I know it partly stems from our own change of tastes over the years – I’d probably rate some of my earlier faves lower now that I’d read so many more books and lived a bit – but also just from the deficiencies of the system.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Finally, good to see what it takes to get a 1star out of you 😀

    For your sake though, I hope this doesn’t happen again this year. Nobody deserves having to go through something like that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Man, I DNF’d this twice before I felt compelled to go through with it because of NG obligation and stuff. In a way I’m glad I did, as now I’m 100% sure I didn’t misjudge this load of nonsense. But yes, I certainly hope this kind of experience won’t happen to me again, this year or ever.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. No, it’s still unspoken, maybe a little bit more elucidated by the publisher’s emails you get when you receive a copy of the book. The obligation I’m talking about is more of an ethical sort: I feel more strongly about finishing a book and writing an exhaustive review and not simply “I didn’t like the beginning and didn’t see any value in continuing” – but I might get there one day, if my rotten luck holds! 😀

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Heh 😉
              I’ve had some pretty good books from there, many of which I’d have probably not known about otherwise, so the balance is positive for now, but I know what you mean. And if that trend of horrible books continues, I might just resign at some point. But, as I basically don’t buy books these days and rely on the library and NG, that would cut me off from many new books I actually want to read – not an entirely bad thing, or unremedied, but a snag I need to think about 😉

              Liked by 1 person

  3. Hahaha, those character descriptions sound hilarious! If I were this writer I would be really embarrassed by the nonsense on display here. I mean, what you write also says something about you, right? Her world view must be twisted in a way.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Honestly, I think you’re right. Writing a book, especially a first one, is a highly personal thing, and you pour more of yourself into it than an experienced writer would or want. So yeah, I’m going to stay away from this author!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. “(A side note: The main character seems to constantly suffer from an undiagnosed digestive disease: there’s always either something lodged in her throat or in the pit of her stomach. She should really see someone.)”

    ROTFLOL

    Liked by 2 people

  5. 1/10? As much as that? Must have been for its value of how *not* to go about writing a novel, an object lesson in how to bamboozle a prestigious publishing firm.

    But this is a satire, yes? A trenchant criticism of every literary genre, be it fantasy, thriller, or social realism? An exercise in reader tolerance, cocking a snook at expectations, subverting th…

    Okay, I get it: it’s so bad that it’s not even good.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That was a fun read!

    But your sample rate is too small to be already biased to Aussie writing 🙂 On the other hand, whenever I met Australians, they all had this totally relaxed whatever attitude, if they all write like that, for sure believability etc doesn’t matter. (My sample rate isn’t that big either, I have to admit.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, that was a bit of a hyperbole on my part 😉 but I’ll be certainly more picky from now on! 😅
      …there’s a certain rivalry between Aussies and Kiwis – they’re like cousins who like each other but also feel they are better than the other one 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So … you’re not tempted by a re-read?

    Poor research is a sin that I cannot forgive when reading. To compound it with poor writing … you can’t even use the ‘artistic licence’ excuse 😂

    I think I’ll go out of my way to actively avoid this.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh no, that sounds terrible! It’s actually the fear of such experiences, that I don’t read new releases except if I’m already familiar with the author.

    Incidentally, I just finished an Australian book, The Lost Man by Jane Harper, which was one of my favourite crime reads this year. I don’t know if you would like it, it’s very slow and character driven, but at least I can assure you, the general quality is much higher than this one, so not all Australian literature is awful. 😆

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was definitely scarring 😉

      Oh, I’m certain Aussies can write some decent books! It’s just this year I have a really rotten luck with them ;). I’ll take a look at The Lost Man, though, thanks for the rec! I feel that Australia is such a great setting for crime novels and stuff with this alt-Western feel 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  9. A truly beautiful disaster! If it weren’t for this book, we wouldn’t get such a beautiful review though! So some praise must be given to the author for this work that I will probably ban myself from ever getting close to. 😛 You go, girl! 😀 It’s always so much fun to read your negative reviews. I want a part 2 with all the other sins though. What will it take to get that? 😀 Anyway, awesome review, Ola!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I see you wish me well, Lashaan! 😜 I think I’ll abstain from writing part 2 and write about something good instead… Maybe Dragon Ball Z? Though I must say I’m very happy that this review, paid for in my blood, sweat, and tears, is so appreciated! 🤣

      Thanks, Lashaan! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Jo Walton, Or What You Will (2020) – Re-enchantment Of The World

  11. I’m sorry you had to suffer through such a horrible book, Ola, but I’m selfishly grateful (I guess), because I enjoyed reading your review of it. It was entertaining. But from how much you didn’t like the book, I’m surprised you didn’t DNF it.
    Still, I thank you for such a great negative review to read. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed my review! Writing it was the best part of the whole experience, that’s for certain 🤣🤣

      Yeah, I have trouble DNFing books from NG; I think I need to work on my sense of obligation 😉 This might have been the final straw, though! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh my. Well, this sounds like a very unpleasant experience, to say the least. 🙂 This story actually sounds like it would have been been done as a suspense/horror film–another version of the Nicholas Cage Wicker Man (NOT the Michael Caine film). Someone wanted to have their own Children of the Corn story, perhaps?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Oh my, this sounds awful. But reading your review was really funny, so thank you!! 😉 But seriously, it seems like in dire need of a ton of good and strong editing. I have to confess that I was done with sin no. 1, that was such a big NO and reading that this book piles sin after sin like they were badge of honor, well… It doesn’t really help along. But for once I am happy to say that my TBR pile won’t grow! Yay!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, you’re very welcome! I’m glad that my suffering brought you some joy! 😉

      This book needed a decent idea for the plot, and it didn’t get it – for me, this is what doomed this project from the start. The rest of the problems could’ve been helped by a good editor, but if there’s no foundation, nothing can be built.
      Heh, maybe your TBR will finally stop hating me 😁

      Liked by 1 person

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