Immersion is one of the most important aspects in a novel. If I’m going to dedicate my time to a work that lies at the almost 400-page mark, I expect that some factor will keep me going. Unfortunately, this immersion was absent in Funaro’s The Sculptor. But it wasn’t the worst reading experience I’ve ever had either. Actually, I found it easy to get through the book at a consistently fast pace, so it wasn’t like there were points that dragged. So, why didn’t I feel immersed? Why was I consistently aware that I was reading a book instead of falling into it? I’ve had this effect with other novels before, and the best way I can describe it is that I feel like I’m simply standing on the surface of the story, or I’m watching it from far away.
What really hooks me and pulls me into a story is the characters. Characterization is what I get the most enjoyment and fulfillment out of, both in reading and writing. Unfortunately, this time around, I got cardboard cutouts instead. Sam Markham was the intelligent agent who doesn’t always play by the rules, Cathy Hildebrant the pretty (this word was used any time another character was describing her) cohort who was in danger and needed a male protector with a tragic backstory. And don’t even get me started on Rachel what’s-her-face, who gets a quick, expositional character sketch in the beginning, and is consistently referred to as being present for the rest of the novel without us seeing her at all. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance when done convincingly. I truly believe that good chemistry between characters can be the hook for a reader, or at least for me. But because we didn’t get much characterization beyond the stereotypes, the romance felt completely out of place. I have to wonder what Funaro added this for.
Another reason why I wasn’t immersed was because the story itself wasn’t uniquely characterized enough. From the first couple of chapters, I was getting heavy Thomas Harris and Dan Brown vibes. Harris because of his specific serial killers with tortured pasts, and Brown because of the art history professor who’s the “best in the country” helping with the investigation. Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking inspiration from other works, especially those you admire. And perhaps this is because I enjoy reading both Brown and Harris so much, but I felt as though I was reading a bit of a copycat. There wasn’t enough unique qualities to the story or most of its characters for it to feel new and memorable to me.
The only parts that delved into the meat of the story were the sections from formerly-Christian’s POV. Little bits were revealed at a time, aside from that info dump in his last chapter. But because we had those tinier pieces of info along the way to build up the tension, I didn’t mind the longwinded reveal of the rest of his backstory (though the location of it, when he was pursuing Cathy and Mark, seemed strange). All in all, I felt that the idea behind the Michelangelo Killer was wasted in this book because the surrounding parts of the story did not complement the potential and decent execution of the character.