All serious works of fiction should carry at least one underlying message. Some manage this with such subtlety it barely makes a conscious impression on those not seeking it, others blare it out loudly, covering their story with a condescending layer of preaching. Many lie somewhere in between; a reasonable balance of theme and story. In this extraordinary tale of human relationships, deceit, corruption, faith, betrayal, love, and death, Joe English has pretty well managed that difficult balance.
This is primarily a story, for all its exposure of the sordid reality of the war on drugs, corruption in high places, and the suppurating sore of the continued reliance on faith by so many people. It’s the story of one man’s struggle with his conscience, of one woman’s fight against injustice, of another man’s conversion from dedicated bloodhound to a more thoughtful mode, of the betrayal of trust by men who purport to care about truth, and of so much more.
The characters here are complex, real, engaging and, in some instances, foul specimens who demonstrate that existence for survival alone is an inadequate way of life for any person. These are fully developed people, though they are mostly unusual individuals; archetypes rather than stereotypes. I was hooked from the start. I cared what happened to these adventurers. I also cared that those who deserved retribution would receive it.
I’ve long been of the opinion that the war on drugs is not only a waste of time, money and other valuable resources, but a shield actively defending the crooks who live off the profits of such trade. The action, and a descriptive passage, in this book perfectly illustrate the corrupt fallacy that is the continuing hypocrisy surrounding the various, selective, and discriminatory attitudes to addiction. All those who promote the war on drugs should read it, and consider the reality of this futile, unwinnable and destructive series of pointless battles.
There’s humour here as well, to relieve the reader from those passages that tell of grief, violence, injustice, and the hypocrisy of religious faith. There’s also tenderness, love, desire and sex.
I’ve found so often in books written by Americans, an unconscious assumption that the world fully understands the customs, traditions, acronyms, and institutions of the USA. It often comes across as a sort of arrogance, unfortunately. As a secular humanist from the UK, much of the religious stance is alien to me, lacking any sort of logic and incapable of answering even the most basic scrutiny and analysis. Also, the political structure, which gives the impression of a scheme devised by the wealthy and power-hungry to maintain their elite status, appears unjust, inherently corrupt, and not fit for purpose. But this, of course, is not the fault of the author. The unfortunate and unintended consequence of these assumptions, however, mean certain aspects of American life are incomprehensible to the rest of the world. There’s a difficult balance to be achieved by authors from all parts of the world to provide enough information about such native norms to allow foreign readers to understand them, while not overburdening the home population with details they fully comprehend. For the most part, this book manages that balance well, failing only in isolated passages.
The presentation is unusual here. We hear from various narrators, in a mix of first and third person and in voices that capture the individual mannerisms and colloquialisms of the origin and environment of their locale. Understandably, some short passages require a little more dedication from the reader to interpret meaning from the sometimes rambling styles. But this all comes across as authentic and adds to the enjoyment and appreciation of the book rather than detracting from it.
This is a novel that asks important, universal questions in a narrative that engages and entertains. It’s a book worthy of recommendation, a book merging the thought-provoking with an emotional content that will satisfy the romantic while allowing the thriller reader enough action to keep the pages turning. I’m delighted I read it.
[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]