The Chopping Block is one of several books set in the Grimm universe, each of which was written by a different author. I confess that I’m curious to read the others at this point, so I know whether to blame the author or the editor and publisher for this book. I’m going to spoil the hell out of it, so if you don’t want to know the plot details or twists, stop reading now. It’s gonna get real up in here.
What frustrates me is that the story is actually pretty decent. It’s is supposed to take place between the last two episodes of Season 2 of the TV series, and while the events of those episodes are mentioned in passing they are pretty much completely irrelevant to this story.
We start off with a father and son hiking in the woods, where they discover a shallow grave near the burial place of the geocache they were searching for. We gradually come to find out that there is some sort of ongoing cannibalistic feast happening in an unknown location; the people who are being eaten are kept as “livestock” in a pen near a butchering room, and are hanged to dry-age in a cooler before they’re prepared for the feast by the discerning wessen chef.
This month-long “celebration” is called the Silver Plate Society, and takes place in secret once every 25 years, so many in the wessen world don’t even think it’s real, just another old wives’ tale. The graves that are eventually uncovered number upwards of two dozen, and are bones only, no other body parts; the only reason Nick realizes that this is cannibal activity and probably wessen-related is because the bones have been boiled and cleaned with carving knives.
Throughout the book switch points of view from Nick, Hank, Juliette, Monroe, and several of the villains/side characters throughout the book. For some people that style of writing is irritating, but I’ve always been a fan of seeing things from different perspectives, so this tactic works for me. What bothered me, however, was what was explained to us from each point of view. We get repeat explanations of characters and their relationships to each other that were far too drawn out and tiresome to reread. I understand that the theory is to make these books potentially accessible to people who don’t watch the show, and that’s fine. But we don’t need each character to recount the same relationship, unless they each see it from vastly different perspectives, which wasn’t the case for anyone.
The most puzzling part, however, was the lack of real description of the different types of wessen. If you’re going to assume the reader hasn’t seen the show, you should also assume they have no idea what the different types of wessen are, and describing not only how they look but their modus operandi seems vitally important.
As someone who has watched every episode of the show and considers themselves a fan, even I have trouble keeping track of all the different German names for wessen, and I was kind of shocked that virtually no background was given on any of them. If they had cut about half the repeated (and unnecessary) character backstory from the book and replaced it with wessen lore, I would have considered that time well spent, and perhaps would even have learned something myself.
The horror elements are by far the strongest parts of the story. The first time we see the “livestock pen”, we are reading from the perspective of a victim who is taken to the butcher room, hanged by his feet from the ceiling, and has his throat cut to drain the blood away, much like slaughtering a pig. The coldly precise details, and the dawning realization of what is actually happening, are very affecting, and I found my stomach in knots during these scenes.
I especially liked the moments spent with the wessen butcher, who takes great pride in his craft, which were all the more horrifying because of the banal, everyday nature of the chore in his eyes. The scenes up in the feast room were a little too over-the-top dramatic, and I felt like the reliance on the trope of “fancy rich people in tuxedos and evening gowns doing grotesque things” was pretty heavy. The author was at his best when dealing in simple, straightforward scenes.
There were a couple of subplots, one of which dealt with Juliette saving the life of a golden retriever at her veterinary practice. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the point of that subplot was. It had nothing to do with anything else, and Juliette isn’t involved in the main plot at all. Did the writer or editor feel there should be more female character POVs and stick this in as an afterthought? It certainly feels like it. I couldn’t tell you, all I know is that I wanted desperately to skim these parts, but didn’t, because I was afraid of missing something. I shouldn’t have worried.
The other subplot concerns Monroe, who has been approached by an old Blutbaden friend named Decker, who claims he wants to reform from his meat-eating, murderous ways and live the alternative-veggie-Pilates lifestyle that Monroe lives. I suspected that Decker was involved in the Silver Plate Society, but the scenes with him trying Pilates, T’ai Chi, and meditation added some much-needed levity, so I was okay with them.
My main gripe, above everything else, was the actual writing. It surprises me that the book was based on a show since the author did a whole lot more telling. For example, there is a scene where Hank discovers a new grave; this scene is almost a full page, and at the end it was actually summarized with something like “His alternate route had inadvertently uncovered another grave”. Yes, author, thank you, we just read that. We don’t need you to tell us what we just read. And this happened repeatedly.
Then there was the weird, unnatural dialogue, or worse, the painfully unbelievable internal monologues. For example, this is taken from a scene with Juliet, as she’s trying to understand what has caused kidney failure in the golden retriever. She believes the dog, named Roxy, got into some antifreeze. “Poor Roxy, she thought. Poked her snout into something sweet, unaware of the mortal danger it represented. Even now, with her life hanging in the balance, she’s too confused and miserable to understand the cause of her pain.” Really? Who thinks like that? Nobody, that’s who. Or later, “Why can’t I accept things the way they are? Am I letting my own recent history with bizarre revelations to cast a pall over good news?”
Honestly, it got to the point where it was almost insulting. Nick chases down a scrap of paper floating around at a crime scene, and anyone paying the slightest bit of attention would, I think, assume that it’s because he thinks it could be a clue. But the author doesn’t trust us with that, either. “If the paper belonged to the killer, it might offer a clue to his identity”. Thanks. For a second there I thought he just needed to blow his nose.
Once again, I enjoyed the actual plot itself, minus the Juliette subplot, and I think that this is a frightening premise that would have worked great on television. But is the author actually responsible for the story, or since this is part of a collaborative series was the author handed a story framework and just told to go to town? When the writing is this bad, does it matter?
If the book were stripped of repeated backstory explanations, summaries of previous scenes, and the hilariously flowery descriptors in some places, I think it could be half as long and twice as good. As is, however, I can’t recommend it unless you’re a quick-reading, diehard fan with a lot of patience. Sorry, Grimm. We’re still on for Friday, though!
Natasha Kingston is the author of Bearing Gifts, a fantasy/paranormal adventure series. The first episode in the series, called In Her Bones, is focused on Violet Muñoz and a series of strange occurrences that will change her life and the lives of millions of others. The second episode, entitled In Her Arms, tells the story of Stephanie Graham and how her own uncontrolled abilities can be potentially devastating to herself and those she loves. The ongoing series will be divided into seasons of 10 episodes each, and will be at least 3 seasons long. The story is sprawling, epic, and unpredictable, so get ready for a crazy ride!
In addition to writing, Natasha is the co-creator of the podcast UNspoiled!, which reviews books chapter by chapter, and television shows episode by episode. The first series covered was A Song Of Ice And Fire, by George RR Martin, and the current program being covered is Breaking Bad. She also has her own solo podcast series called Natasha’s Spoiler Hour, where she reviews Scandal and The Walking Dead, complete with a lot of swearing and ranting.