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. 😉