Top positive review
Reviewed in the United States on December 13, 2015
You know you’re in the hands of an accomplished thriller writer when he can get you lost just in the rhythms and pacing of the storytelling. The beginnings of the chapters have one word sentences, some strung together three at a time into stand-alone paragraphs. Just alternating throughout the scenario building between phrases, complete sentences, fragments and fragments of fragments, he’s able to create suspense and knuckle biting tension, or set mood and atmosphere, like using a musical score to undergird his lyrics. To get this playful with what you do, to be so fluid with it, that’s when competent writing starts to become art. I just finished chapter two—and it’s worth mentioning that these are—typical to the genre—short 4 page chapters—and already I know I’m in capable hands. That’s usually how it goes with these things.
By chapter three I’m thinking he’s not so much writing as painting with words. Yes, he’s storytelling, but he lets what seems like poetry bubble up as if the champagne would just be flat without these bubbles. The “poetry” is what you’d get if Quentin Tarantino or perhaps Elmore Leonard and Hemingway sat down to establish how a hair-raising mood can be done with just a few word flourishes.
Red silhouettes against a blackened sky. The rough outline of what had been a palatial house hours before.
You get the idea. What I’m really digging with his approach is I’m having fun with the story. Stories can be brilliant, engaging, profound, fast-paced… everything you want in a story, and still, somehow, not be fun. And fun for me is the most important element a book can have—that will allow it to survive the absence of most everything else.
This is, I believe, the fourth Zoo Crew novel, which caused me some concern initially, as I’m jumping in late to the series. It turned out to be a total non-issue, as the author does a more than satisfactory job of orienting you to the players and the nature of the Zoo Crew dynamic. “A bigger crew of misfits you couldn’t find. Worlds apart in the slices of the social strata they come from.” I’m paraphrasing, by the way; that’s not a quote. The alchemy between the college teens turns out to be just right for their coming adventure.
The Zoo Crew youths have Montana written all over them; they spend the year round alternating between outdoor activities. While we’re on the subject of Montana, the author does a great job of letting the locals and settings and feel of life in Montana seep through each of the pages of the book; the story has a great sense of place, conveyed not just in the characters, but stitched into every element of the story; it’s more than mere window dressing; it’s a bona fide character in the story.
In true thriller fashion, we’re introduced to a number of characters in act 1 through different story threads. You can tell from the poignancy of the characterizations and the nature of the dramas they’re involved with that each story thread includes a piece of the puzzle, you just can’t quite figure out how the pieces fit together. The trick at this point is to get the reader to want to puzzle it out and to keep reading because they can’t put the book down until the puzzle does come together. I say “the trick” because though the formulas are tried and true, nothing’s guaranteed; you still need to stir some magic into the recipe. Clearly the magic was there, because I found myself reading faster and faster as I leafed through the chapters.
I was intrigued initially by the house of a prominent figure burning to the ground, and the fact that the good guys investigating the case and the bad guys who did the crime are both thinking, “Hmm, couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.” Lol. Suddenly I’m intrigued about a person whom I know very little about just by the fact that he’s managed to draw such animosity from both sides. It’s still the barest of charcoal drawings at this point. But as the details start getting colored in chapter by chapter, what emerges is an ever-more engrossing story that weirdly brings the most unlikely people together across great stretches of time in a very high stakes game.
We’re just past 90 pages into the book, coming to the end of act 1, when the zoo crew finally gets fired up. And they’re mobilizing to defend “the glue guy” –the one everyone thinks is guilty—including the reader. Drake is running point, with the Zoo crew the friends he unwinds with as his investigations heat up, to help him gain some perspective. What follows is a race between both sides, prosecutorial and defense, to dig up enough evidence with their investigations to tilt the outcome of the pending case/trial one way or the other. The match would seem a bit uneven. On the prosecutorial side is a seasoned attorney, and a detective with something to prove, the career-defining case he’s been looking for, for over a decade. Pitted against that is Drake, not yet quite out of law school. And just about nothing else because the defendant can’t afford to pay him, far less any help Drake might want to bring in. The ensuing David and Goliath clash between opposing attorneys makes for rather compelling reading, even before the dirt starts flying. The plot twists and turns with each new piece of evidence coming in, ratcheting up the tension and the excitement.
Who is Drake out to save exactly? Some guy is driving by at the time of the arson and murder of the man nobody liked, and is caught on a traffic cam. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He claims he has no connection to the arson or the murder case. Drake does some preliminary investigatory work and agrees. But his actual innocence is neither here nor there; it’s a matter of what Drake can or can’t prove. So he has to dig into the case more, into the out and out lies and half-told truths for what lies beneath. It’s when he starts digging into things he shouldn’t that things get explosive.
Fun highpoints for me included seeing Drake hold his own against a high-priced, more seasoned attorney with his sharp mind and silver tongue. It reminded me of some of the choicer moments of The Rainmaker (either the book by John Grisham or the movie with Matt Damon, take your pick.)
I could say more but that would just spoil the fun of the read. And there’s a lot of fun to be had.