Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Review: An Unusual Chain of Events by GH Bright

If you throw a series of pebbles into a pond, what happens?  You create numerous ripples that ultimately intersect each other. The plot of GH Bright’s novel, An Unusual Chain of Events, illustrates with fractal intricacy how one brutal night of violence can have far reaching consequences that no one could have imagined.

After being initiated by a prologue that depicts a vicious attack, the book is broken up into four parts where we are introduced to a host of characters that might seem comfortable in the potboilers of the 1980s. We meet David, the repressed businessman, his bored and insecure wife Sally, whose crumbing marriage forms the bedrock on which the rest of the story in built. Neither are likeable characters and one can be forgiven for thinking David has a reason for his behaviour but when the truth is revealed, it invokes genuine surprise.

Each act introduces us to a new set of characters, including Sally’s brother Dean, the drug dealing mobster. Dean returns to England for Sally’s sake only to find himself faced with betrayal and a fight for his life in a gang war. Through Dean we meet Sian, Sally’s friend, estranged after her marriage to David. The third act leads into the introduction of Jo and her band the White Swans.  In the midst of all this, DI Harper makes his emergence and may be as much a pebble in the pond as the rape that begins this story.

I enjoyed reading this book and getting to know the latticework of characters the author is creating. Dean and DI Harper are standouts while Sally’s insecurity is tiresome when compared to Jo’s contentment and Sian’s sarcasm. The hunt for the killer which takes up much of the plot is also quite gripping and I did a binge read to get to the end to see what happens.

The book also makes an admirable attempt to explore the often taboo subject of male rape and its effect on its victims. One cannot help but empathise with the killer’s motivations when one realises the source of it, even if only serves to further damage an already dangerous psyche. It speaks to the ability of the author to paint his characters in shades of grey.

There are depictions of graphic sex but it does not ever gratuitous and serves to explain the motivations of some characters. If I had a complaint, I felt that the book might have been structured better. The gangland war with Dean and the Turks felt too long and added little to the overall plot. The introduction of Jo and the White Swans is not as seamless as it should be and some connections strained credibility. Sian’s revelation that she knew the truth about David without revealing it to Sally was difficult to swallow.

Other than that, this was a delicious read and I was very satisfied when I reached the end. The characters have messy, flawed lives but it makes them relatable since it’s an accurate picture of the human condition.     

Monday, 2 February 2015

Review: Fade to Black by Tim McBain and L.T. Vargus

There’s something not quite right about Jeff Grobnagger. In reading Fade to Black by Tim McBain and L.T. Vargus, it’s a feeling that does not diminish the more we enter his world.

The book begins with one of the most visceral, gut clenching openings I’ve read in some time. From the synopsis, what happens should be of no surprise as we descend into Jeff’s dream world. Still, the authors expertly set the scene, painting it with dismal tones of impending doom. When the inevitable climax does arrive, it still feels jarring.

Stalked in his dreams by a hooded assailant, the dreams strike at any time, manifesting as epileptic seizures. The manner in which Jeff is prepared to handle these dreams adds to the reader’s sense that something about him is off. The book is written in the first person point of view so we get some workings into Jeff’s mind, discovering a hermit-like existence and a pathological fear of human connection. This is never explained to satisfaction and adds to the mystery of the character.

The cold open leads the reader back to the waking where Jeff’s story begins. Following the latest seizure and dream-death, Jeff meets Glenn, a bystander who never quite feels like a bystander. Once again, Glenn gives the impression that there is more to him than his revelation of a lost daughter. Glenn believes that Jeff is the key to finding Amity whose fascination with the occult might have led to her disappearance.

It is through Glenn that Jeff is confronted with the possibility his dreams are psychic episodes. Following a real life attempt in his life, Jeff realises he needs to know the truth for his continued existence. As he and Glenn delve into the world of the occult, they encounter characters along the way who give credibility to this suspicion; the mysterious Ms Babinaux who conducts meetings in a limousine and Louise, the private detective whose perpetual smile veils a hidden agenda or a desire to kill Batman.

The story is fascinating, with two pervading themes, the cipher of Jeff’s personality and the sensation that the world around him is not quite what it seems. Every character feels like a projection and the reader travels the dreamscape and the waking world of the plot, waiting for the shoe to drop where all is revealed. Unfortunately that moment does not arrive and is by far, the most frustrating aspect about the book. I enjoyed the read but felt that some revelations could have been made without sacrificing the mystery. It may be too much for some readers to overcome but I intend to see what happens to Jeff in this next outing.

As long as the reader is prepared for the abrupt ending, this is an enjoyable book with clever and sometimes hilarious dialogue. I recommend it for those who love their contemporary thrillers with a surreal twist. Definitely one for the fans of David Lynch.