The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

Virgin Books
A Benny Adventure

Author Christopher Bulis Cover taken from the excellent Doctor Who books page
ISBN# 0 426 20523 5
Published 1998
Cover Peter Elson

Synopsis: The monorails of the inhospitable planet of Tempest are the only way to travel. But a death on the train plunges the situation into chaos and only Bernice can save them now.


A Hundred Pages Too Long by Robert Smith? 16/9/98

It's not that Tempest is a bad book, by any means. And in some ways, Bulis copes with the mystery novel format quite well. While reading the novel, one is left with the comforting thought that everything will be fair and above board: all the clues to the villain's identity will be there and the book won't 'cheat' in any way, yet the plot will be complex enough (and there'll be a reassuring subplot to keep the action from getting too stale) that this won't be immediately obvious.

It's a pity about depth of characterisation or a spark of originality, but I think that by this stage, no one's much expecting that.

Bulis has typically coped quite well with the characters he knew already (eg the Doctor and companions), but succeeded less well (i.e. almost without exception was an abject failure) at portraying original characters. So Tempest has something of a disadvantage for a Bulis novel, since Benny is the only non-original character.

Nevertheless, this feels exactly average for Bulis. The non-original characters, despite some effort, never really work, but they don't fail either. Bernice is competently portrayed, but nothing more.

The mystery itself varies from being presented quite well (especially initially) to some confusion as key points are glossed over. They're all there, of course, but it takes a deeper reading to see this and Tempest most certainly does not lend itself to such a reading. The explanation of the shadow, in particular, looks as though it were meant to appear much earlier than it finally did (since the relevant chapter is titled "A Shadow Explained" and Bernice finds out what it is, so I think the reader should as well). There are a few unlikely-seeming coincidences, but these turn out not to be coincidences after all, freeing the book from any idiot plotting, for which Bulis deserves praise.

Unfortunately, one of the subplots lacks so much interest that I can't help feeling that it has been tacked on to fill up the page count. The whole section with Smith could easily be lost, making this a much tighter and more enjoyable novel. It's a pity Virgin seems to require a standard word count: a shorter novel, priced slightly cheaper, might encourage a few more sales and be more rewarding. Instead, the ending drags, forcing the reader to plow through to the end. By the time the subplot is resolved and the action returns to the original mystery, the reader has lost interest in both.

This is something of a pity, because the explanation for the original mystery would otherwise be quite involving. Unfortunately, it's been so long, with so little happening that this loses most of it's potential impact.

That's about it, really. Standard Bulis fare, applied to the Bernice line, but no more or less interesting than any other such Bulis book. A competent, though unexceptional Bernice and a competent, though unexceptional plot make a competent, though unexceptional book. Good enough for a throwaway read (especially if you like competently plotted mystery stories), but if you miss this you won't exactly be lost. In a line of novels that prides itself on continuing storylines with interesting characters and thought-provoking themes, Tempest is an anomaly for having none of these things.

A Review by Sean Gaffney 10/11/99

Hmm. Another book which is hard to judge. I enjoyed it as I was reading it, but, as a mystery, it failed miserably.

PLOT: The book's big weakness. Everything in this book is stultifyingly predictable, from the mishaps along the way to the investigation team being waylaid, all the way up to the big finale. I knew who did it about 3 pages after the murder was committed. This does, despite what some fans may tell you, detract from the mystery. ^_^ The book was also filled with other mystery cliches, but I can forgive cliches a lot more than being obvious.

BERNICE: Fairly well-written dialogue, though I think was a little too eager to get involved. As a psuedo-Poirot, she does well here, and it helps that we've seen her do this before, in Ship of Fools - in fact, that's why I think she was a tad too eager this time round.

OTHERS: They were nicely dialogued, and amusing, but all of them fit into a set cliche. Costermann and Tyne came off the best.

STYLE: The usual Bulis style - it rips along, fast and furious, and you don't realise how light and airy it is until you finish it. Which, I might add, is not a bad thing in and of itself. Chris' books occupy 260 pages very well, and I don't begrudge him that.

ONE MORE THING: I did this for Infinite Requiem, and I'll do it here - 2 points off automatically for killing off a character not for plot reasons, but just to be tragic. Lil's death was solely there to make the situation graver than it was. Find another way to do that. :-P

OVERALL: I'm giving this book points for making me enjoy it, despite all its faults. Perhaps the best thing going for it is its insubstantiality, which makes you forgive the threadbare plot a bit more.


A Review by Finn Clark 16/6/04

Christopher Bulis tries to do Agatha Christie and fails. On first reading, I thought it was passable but unmemorable. I didn't see why people were so down on it (it's the lowest-rated Benny NA on Shannon's online rankings). However rereading Tempest changed my mind; I now regard it as a misconceived waste of trees and seriously below-par even for Bulis.

It starts well. Criminals rip off a casino and Benny tells a charming after-dinner story. While we're still not sure what genre the book will become, it's okay. Anything might happen! Unfortunately we soon find ourself in the middle of Murder on the Orient Express... and disinfecting your burst anal abscess would be more entertaining than watching the Bulis do a whodunnit.

Y'see, there's no action or drama in the whodunnit format. There's a murder (sometimes with added robbery, blackmail, etc., but there's always murder) and our heroes investigate. That's the whole book. There might be another murder or two along the way, but by the rules of the genre we won't be told who's responsible until the "Poirot in the drawing room" final chapter. Thus there's no hero-vs-villain conflict. The detectives are opposed only by the evidence at the crime scene. Thus a whodunnit had better have lively characterisation and sparkling guest characters if it doesn't want to be dull.

Hey, guess what!

This whole book is an exercise in "I don't care". The Imnulate has been stolen! A mindless grunt of an alien has been murdered and his super-rich tycoon employer was knocked unconscious! Remind me why I should give a damn? Okay, a bunch of religious loonies are ready to go to war over the Imnulate, but I wasn't interested because they're just religious loonies. Stupid people deserve everything they do to each other. Let them burn. The main consequence of the Imnulate going walkabout is that the obscenely wealthy Costermann will merely become wealthier instead of much wealthier.

This book is pointless. It's not about anything. It's just a sub-Christie runaround on an alien trans-continental train. There's an (easily resolved) attempted hijack towards the end to spice things up, but basically it's 200-odd pages of Bernice investigating a bunch of two-dimensional characters and failing to uncover the bad guy.

The resolution is clever. Everything's tied together in a satisfying fashion that doesn't cheat and doesn't feel arbitrary as whodunnits sometimes do. Unfortunately: (a) I'd guessed it 200 pages earlier, and (b) who cares? In fact it's damning that I had to guess at all. It's only four years since I last read Tempest, but I'd forgotten almost everything about it. I had a feeling it took place on a train, but no more. What does it say about a novel if its climactic revelation, its raison d'etre, can slip from a reader's memory so completely?

The writing is okay, though there's an action scene halfway through that dies on the page. The characters are one-note stereotypes, but you expected no more from the Bulis. At least they're recognisable. (One of 'em is a crime boss, complete with bodyguards and bimbos, but this would have been more interesting if he'd ever acted like a crime boss in any way whatsoever.) At one point I thought Tempest was referencing Shakespeare, as the Bulis seems to make a habit of doing, but I don't think the planet's name has significance. It's just a name.

This novel has nothing to recommend it. Technically it's not even a Doctor Who book, so you lucky fanboys can ignore it. It's bland rather than bad, but more importantly it's uninspired hackwork that means nothing. In fact it'll erase your brain cells. This is the kind of Who-related book that inspires you to forget about Doctor Who and go read that classic novel you bought at random twelve years ago for 99p. Hell, you'd get more from an Archie comic. (See also "BBC Books 2003-4, discussion of".)

In other words, it's another Bulis book. Why does it exist at all?