To celebrate John W. Howell’s re-release of his first novel, I’m reposting my review. First, let me say the following:
Now for the review that originally went live in 2014:
This was my first time reading a mystery/thriller and I expected there to be tons of action and intrigue. Instead, I found a lot of suspense and colorful characters that kept me wanting to read more. The pacing is fast at most points and there’s very little lingering on scenes. A plot point is hit, suspicions are raised, twists occur, and then off to the next leg of the adventure.
I know from that description it sounds like I’m saying this is rushed, but it’s the opposite. The speed of the story is one that tickles your nerves because you’re always wondering what something means. A few times you even wonder if there’s a hidden significance to an event, so your mind keeps going back to it for reference. Thankfully, My GRL is written in a way that you tend to remember everything.
One thing that took a little getting used to is the author’s habit of going into extreme descriptive detail. His knowledge of boats, cars, and several other things is extensive and he lets you know that. There are also points where it is a play-by-play of events. It is a little jarring at first, but the first person narrative helped me adapt. I figured the main character is a nervous talker and he sure has a lot to be nervous about in this story. A few chapters in, I barely noticed because I got the feeling that every word could hold a clue as to what would happen. It also managed to extend the suspense because I never knew when the description would lead to an ‘ah-ha!’ moment.
One of the only issue I had with the book was that the main character was overshadowed by most of the several characters. I can’t really go into detail without spoilers, but John Cannon seems like a fish out of water for most of the book. He is routinely overwhelmed even though he shows signs that he could probably talk or smile his way out of trouble. It’s just that he never really pushes this ability to an effective level, so the more capable and skilled characters appear to be doing most of the legwork. I really enjoyed Police Chief Ned and a later character that helps John. In fact, I’d love to see them get their own books because I found them more interesting. Maybe a sequel will occur since there is a good set up for the characters that make it to the end.
The other issue I had is more of a personal pet peeve. One of the main villains had a really bizarre reason for getting John involved. I kind of understand the rationale (or insanity), but I really couldn’t connect with it after having characters with such depth. The other main villains came off as more dangerous and cunning. This guy was intimidating and gave off a sense of being powerful, but his reasoning for hating John made him oddly petty and out of place among the terrorist villains. Then again, he did set up a few impressive scenarios, so maybe it’s simply a case of the man behind the curtain should have stayed there.
Overall, I loved this story and hope the author has another planned. This is his debut novel and it’s very impressive with high levels of suspense, which is what I think a thriller should have. I highly recommend this book. Also, I ask the author if we could get a Ned book. I really liked Ned.