Let me start by saying that John Barlow is fast becoming one of my favourite authors, indie or otherwise, and he doesn’t write science fiction! What he writes is the thinking [wo]man’s crime.
Long before I ever read my first science fiction novel, I read a psychological ‘crime’ thriller by the famous Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The book was called ‘Crime and Punishment’ and has been my benchmark for character development ever since. Decades later I read Ian Rankin [Rebus] and Robert Wilson [Blindman of Seville], and added them to my pantheon. Now I am adding John Barlow as well. He really is that good.
If you follow my reviews you will know that I loved John Barlow’s first book – Hope Road. In it, Barlow introduces us to a wonderfully flawed character by the name of John Ray, but we are only given hints as to why the character is so flawed. In Father and Son we find out.
As the title suggests, the relationship between father and son is at the heart of the character’s ambivalence towards his life, and the mess he has made of it. He always wanted to be the white sheep of the family, the one who got away from the culture of crime, the one who could make it without lying or cheating or stealing or killing. But escape from a family of successful criminals is never just a case of doing something else.
How can you sever ties with your family when so many of your childhood memories are good? And you still love them?
That is a question we all have to answer to some degree because we are all products of our environments, cultures, and most especially, families. Learning to see all those elements for what they really are is an integral part of growing up. Making conscious decisions is not enough. To truly come of age, we have to shed the comforting illusions of childhood as well.
For John Ray, this coming of age does not happen until his forties. Despite his background and obvious intelligence, he is still strangely naive, seeing his father as a good man at heart. Yet the fact remains that his father built a highly successful criminal empire that only ended with his stroke. Can anyone ‘do the crime’, and still retain some basic integrity?
To me, that is the core question of the novel, for both father and son. To discover the answer, we have to follow John Ray on a brutal journey that begins in the past, with a bomb and a dead baby, and ends in the present, with a series of gruesome murders. Along the way, this child of crime discovers that the sins of the fathers really do pass down from one generation to the next. But can that cycle ever be broken?
I have my own ideas about redemption, but they may be different to yours, so all I will say is that ‘Father and Son’ is even better than ‘Hope Road’. In fact, if you’ll allow me to make a foodie analogy, ‘Father and Son’ is the main course to Hope Road’s appetizer. I really can’t recommend this novel enough, and I sincerely hope there is a dessert in the pipeline.
Before I finish I’d like to make a request on behalf of the author. I know many readers shy away from leaving reviews because the word sounds so formal, and forbidding. I really wish Amazon would just call it ‘feedback’ instead. Anyway… I know John would kill for feedback, especially from UK readers, so if you read Father and Son, please leave a few words, literally, about why you did or did not enjoy it.
Seriously, a few words of encouragement can light up an author’s day, not to mention keep them in bread and water a little longer. 😉
June 19th, 2013 at 2:48 am
It’s interesting how many people shy away from writing reviews. I know that when I don’t like a book I’m reluctant, but when I LOVE it — as you often do — I wax poetic.
I really enjoy YOUR reviews. Keep ’em coming!
June 19th, 2013 at 10:59 am
I think half the problem is in the name. A review sounds so highbrow or professional or something, and most people read for pleasure, not because they get a kick out of analyzing the death out of a piece of fiction. The other issue is timing and convenience. While I may enjoy writing a review on my blog, remembering to also write one for Amazon and Goodreads requires a conscious effort. Which reminds me, I still haven’t put my review on Goodreads. Gah. See what I mean?
And thank you! 🙂
June 18th, 2013 at 5:24 pm
I really get a kick out of reading your reviews, specially if you’ve enjoyed the book. You’re full of enthusiasm for the subject and yet you can analyse the story without giving anything away.Since this is a genre I like you’ve persuaded me to give it a try.
xxx Hugs xxx
June 18th, 2013 at 8:52 pm
Really???? -dance- I’m so pleased I can’t find the words! I can hardly wait to see what your reaction to it is. Oh and the first book? Hope Road? It’s free. -nudge nudge-
June 18th, 2013 at 1:46 pm
You are so persuasive… I added Hope Road to my ever growing Goodreads list but Father and Son isn’t yet listed on Goodreads. Crime novels aren’t usually my thing but who knows these days ewhat my thing is! You make this book sound like I would like it… hmmm 🙂
June 18th, 2013 at 2:12 pm
-grin- Would I lie to you? Seriously, I noticed today that Hope Road is free to generate interest in Father and Son so grab it if you can. If you don’t fall in love with John Ray I’ll eat my hat – even if I have to buy one first. 😉
June 18th, 2013 at 4:39 pm
There’s no end to your cleverness 🙂 I just downloaded Hope Road to my phone – thanks – and no doubt after I’ve read it I’ll purchase Father and Son…
June 18th, 2013 at 8:47 pm
lol – I can’t take any credit! The strategy was the author’s, I just happened to notice when I was collecting links for the post. 🙂
June 18th, 2013 at 1:27 pm
Sounds great. Are the two books best read in order (Hope Road first, then Father and Son) or are they independent reads?
June 18th, 2013 at 2:13 pm
They are part of what I think will be a trilogy so I’d definitely read Hope Road first. It’s free on Amazon atm so well worth downloading. 🙂
June 18th, 2013 at 3:14 pm
Oooh, free? Heading there right now! 😀
June 18th, 2013 at 8:45 pm
June 18th, 2013 at 1:03 pm
I vaguely remember reading crime & punishment in my teens. I don’t think I was ready for it at the time… Or maybe reading it at the same time as two different translations of Anna Karenina at the same time was too much for my 17-year-old brain… I did an independent module on Anna Karenina where I met with a teacher one-on-one for 1.5 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 6 weeks. I went to a very unusual school. She didn’t like the translation the school gave me and bought me her favorite translation and every night I had to read a couple of chapters in each & be prepared to talk about the book as well as how the translations changed the story.
So back to your review. Sounds great. You write much better reviews than I do.
June 18th, 2013 at 2:18 pm
lol – I know what you mean about Crime and Punishment – /not/ a light read. And yet that one book had a huge effect on me. In fact I think that’s probably where my thing about villains and redemption began.
I remember watching Anna Karenina – with Greta Garbo? – as an early teen but I think I was too young to empathize with her as a character. I remember being annoyed with her and never went on to read the book. I probably should now I’m old enough to know better. 🙂
Is there a translation you’d recommend?