The hunt for the great literary thriller of my summer 2017 continues. This one was gifted to me by K. (thanks, K.) and held great promise: well reviewed by all the right people, and delivered. I had more substantive things to say about it when I was reading it, but I read it at the cottage and now things are a bit of a blur of campfires, wine and games of hearts. (It’s a sign of my changing life that I read this one at the cottage and 419 and that was it. Such is the life of an auntie with four nephews under three. I don’t suppose any of you will hold it against me.
What I do recall is descriptions of clothes and cars. Much like movies that are (secretely) enjoyable to watch because they feature slick settings of rich decor, rich clothing, rich objects (aka: rich people), this book revels in careful accounts of what rich people own and how they adorn themselves with these signs of wealth. Similarly there are methodical descriptions of what a character looks like (which, when you stop to look for it, is actually pretty rare in contemporary literary fiction) and how they like to hold their coffee cup. Call it atmospheric, but I didn’t mind: I enjoyed being whisked into a world of surface appearances and the lap of luxury (recognizing, I suppose, the luxury of reading on a dock on a lake).
From this focus on surface appearance we get a novel that is (almost entirely) focused on plot. Nick Mason is in jail for being a good guy (and robbing people, but mostly for being a good guy). He’s singled out by a fancy pants crime lord and released back into the world to make mischief of one kind (and another). He soon realizes he’s conflicted: is he a good guy who also commits crimes? Or is is he at heart a criminal (and so a ‘bad guy’)? This ostensible inner struggle plays out amid the smashing of cars, the breaking of noses and the exchanges of bags of money. Suffice it to say this reader didn’t really care where Nick landed in his introspection and desire to be a better man. But this reader did (really) enjoy puzzling out the crimes and anticipating the climax (which, again, I think is meant to be as much about Nick’s reckoning with his changing sense of self as it is of scenes of guns blazing).
On finishing the book I learned it’s the first in a series, which makes sense as this is written for a mass audience (I’m surprised it isn’t already a movie)*. This is neither complaint, nor criticism. I fully enjoyed reading it – thrilled, even. Just to say that it’s a book canny in its mass appeal and thoughtful about striking a balance between the literary (cue moral complexity) and the… I’m loathe to say the opposite of literary is popular – because it’s not! but whatever the opposite is that is represented in descriptions of black cars and black turtlenecks.
*On checking the internet I have learned that the book is currently in the process of being adapted as a movie. So there.