This post of mystery novel 337 by author Jonathan M. Lee has been adapted from two previous posts. First is the spoiler free review followed by the spoiler full review and summary.
Thank you so much to Hideaway Fall Publishing for providing me with a copy of 337 in exchange for this honest review.
Spoiler Free Review
When I was contacted about the novel 337 I was told that it would be a unique reading experience. Here is a book that you can supposedly read both forward and backward! I was quite intrigued. Before even receiving the book I had already decided to read it backward. I mean, when do you ever get to do that?!
So you can imagine my disappointment when I picked up the book, started at the last chapter, and 16 pages in was told to flip the book and start at the real beginning. 16 pages hardly qualifies for reading a book backward. And of course I skimmed the first 16 pages that start the “beginning” of the book. The same as the ones I just read! I call shenanigans!
I’m honestly not sure if I would have agreed to read 337 without the promise of the backwards gimmick. I do know though that I significantly lowered its rating due to the disappointment of reading a fairly uneventful mystery without any rule breaking formatting.
I believe the title 337 comes less from any point in the plot and more from a play on the author’s name. Since you are supposed to flip the book upside down at some point you’ll see that 337 becomes the name LEE.
Additionally, the two covers for the book are blue and yellow. There are several instances in the book that allude to these colors containing some sort of symbolic meaning. However, it wasn’t clear enough or I didn’t care enough to be abe to tell you know what it means.
The basic premise of the story is that Sam’s mom went missing one day 19 years ago. She left behind a note and her wedding ring and her family never saw her again. Sam is determined to figure out what happened to her and why she would have abandoned him.
Sam spends time asking questions of his dying Gramma in order to finally get to the bottom of this. I cared more about Sam building his relations with his existing family than I did about him solving the mystery.
I wish 337 had put more thought into substance over style. The actual plot and character development in the book is a little flat and the progression of the story is somewhat dull. There are several plot points that basically get abandoned or have little payoff for the reader.
Additionally, 337 sets itself up at the end for a sequel. And I’m over it. If you’ve been following my reviews for a while you know how desperate I am for endings. Stories cry out for conclusions! This one needed a conclusion, I can’t imagine it has enough material for another 337 pages, just give me the ending now!
But capitalism has deemed the sequel mandatory anymore, and we’re all worse off for it. One of the best parts of a mystery is that it gets solved, that’s as clear as any ending should be! But this mystery does not get solved, spoiler I guess.
337 is overall an okay book. It’s readable and entertaining enough for the most part but definitely has a few flaws. It’s not offensive or littered with typos but it also can’t be read backwards like I was promised.
If you like your mysteries more subdued then you could try to check this one out.
337 is a mystery novel/ family drama that is advertised as a book that the reader can read both forward and backward. This novelty intrigued me and is honestly the main reason I agreed to review the book.
Clearly, you can imagine my disappointment then that when the publishers say “can be read both forwards and backwards” they actually meant that the book can be flipped over and you can read the same 16 page prologue on either the first or the last pages of the book. That’s a bit of false advertising if you ask me.
Honestly, I think the author only did this for a play on his own name. Since 337 upside down is LEE, the book spine can read either way. I especially think this is true since the number 337 is completely arbitrary as far as any significance to the plot goes. Seems to be mostly an exercise in vanity.
The book starts (or “ends”) with Sam, who’s mom disappeared 19 years ago. She just left behind a note and her wedding ring one day never to be seen by her family again. Because of this, Sam’s relationship with the rest of his family is strained at best.
Out of the blue Sam’s father calls him. At this time the reader can only presume that he’s calling from prison. Sam withholds a lot of information from the reader so this will not be confirmed for some time.
But dad calls and insists that Sam go visit his dying Gramma in the nursing home. He doesn’t say why but he is very insistant. Even after Sam visits the first time, dad insists he visit again.
After one of the visits Sam realizes he left his jacket behind. He returns to the nursing home to find it and discovers that his wallet has been emptied of all cash and receipts. I thought this would be a bigger plot point. It seemed to hold some gravitas in the way it was presented to the reader but it never really came back to have much consequence at all.
Sam and Gramma begin to bond through these visits and Sam begins to go out of more than guilt and obligation. He is able to go frequently because of his flexible work schedule.
Several times throughout the book we are shown a countdown clock that says how many hours Sam has left to work in the week. Now, when I see a countdown clock in a book or movie I assume it’s building to something important. However, this did not seem to be the case in 337. Yet another point I thought would mean a lot more than it ever did.
Sam begins to question Gramma about the disappearance of his mother. He believes she could help him solve the mystery before she dies. She agrees to help but wants him to attempt to bring in Tom, Sam’s estranged brother, for a visit as well.
Tom is reluctant and busy with his life as a rock star. But he finally agrees to come visit, causing Sam some relief from being the only responsible family member.
It’s around this time that it’s revealed to the reader that Sam’s father is in prison for murdering his wife, Sam’s mom. However, it is questionable whether or not he actually did it. Actually, it’s questionable that there was a murder. I have no idea how good the prosecuting attorney for this case must have been but they managed to get a murder conviction without a body, proof of death, or any evidence at all from what I gather. That’s quite near impossible.
Tom makes it to visit but just in time to see Gramma pass away. The brothers spend a little time reconnecting and getting to know each other a little better before Tom hits the road again.
Sam gets a phone call saying that his father has passed away in prison, right after Gramma did. For some reason, he decides to withhold this information from Tom.
Sam decides to leave the mystery behind him, he burns all evidence and clues he’s collected over the past years. Then a previously unknown and undocumented witness makes herself known to Sam.
The book then jumps through some blank pages to signify the passing of time. We land at chapter 337, a totally random number that is never otherwise mentioned in the book. Mom gives Sam a call. She’s alive. The End.
Will there be a sequel called 338? I’m not sure but since it seems like 9/10 books have sequels anymore I think it’s a fair bet. I’m honestly extremely sick of stories not having endings. It’s really starting to agitate me. This isn’t a novel, it’s a really long prologue.
I think I went into 337 with higher expectations than it deserves. I thought that an author who could successfully write a book backwards and forwards would at least have some strong creativity to admire. Well, he couldn’t even do the gimmick he promised so nothing else really fell into place either.
I enjoyed the relationship between Sam and his Gramma, if you like family drama and reconciliation you’ll enjoy that aspect for sure. But the rest falls flat. It’s a relatively uninteresting mystery with an underserved cliff hanger ending. It’s mostly trying too hard to be something it’s not.
2/5 doors 🚪🚪
For a better indie mystery novel check out Lost Touch
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Buy it here: 337