Tag Archives: author-John-Barlow

Father and Son – by John Barlow

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.

father and son coverIf 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. 😉

cheers

Meeks


Hope Road – a review

hope road smallI read somewhere recently that it takes about six or seven exposures to an author’s name for that name to register with readers. Well, I’m living proof that theory is correct!

John Barlow, the author of Hope Road, writes the odd post for Indies Unlimited, and I must have enjoyed those posts, because when I stumbled across his name in the Amazon ‘readers who bought X also bought Y‘ list, a little light bulb went off in my head.

Needless to say I bought Hope Road, and read it. What the theory did not predict, however, was that I would fall head over heels in love with the main character, John Ray!

Hope Road is a quasi police procedural, but told through the eyes of John Ray, a character who is definitely not a policeman. Hope Road is also a bit of a thriller,  a bit of a mystery, and a lovely character study of John Ray. In short, it is exactly the kind of book I love. And I did love it. 😀

The story is set in a seedy part of Leeds, [England] where John Ray, the prodigal son, has returned to take over the second-hand car business belonging to his family. But selling second-hand cars was only ever a front for the real family business, which was crime.

John’s father was a local crime-lord until his retirement due to ill-health, and John’s brother was murdered in an apparent gangland ‘hit’. But John has always been clean. He is the one who left, the one who went to university and became a solid citizen. So why has he returned? And why is he now selling used cars from the old showroom that used to be headquarters for his father’s criminal operations?

The natural suspicion surrounding John’s return is only exacerbated by the discovery of a dead girl in one of his cars, along with 50,000 pounds in counterfeit bills.

The police know the murderer could not have been John because he has a water-tight alibi – he was in bed with Detective Constable [DC] Denise Danson at the time. However the car was being driven by John’s protégé, and employee, Freddy, and the family business used to be in counterfeiting, so John is definitely a person-of-interest. But is he actually guilty of anything?

I was intrigued, to say the least, because right from the beginning, John Ray exudes the kind of charisma that is usually reserved for sexy villains, yet he also seems to be a genuinely caring person who puts himself at risk trying to prove that Freddy was not the murderer.

So how did Barlow create this charismatic character?

John Ray is not stereotypically handsome. He is described as a big man in his forties with a shock of black hair, and a physical ‘presence’, but he is not a James Bond, although it seems he is good in bed. Nor is he one of those angst-ridden types who introspects ad nauseum.

So what is it about John Ray that makes him so appealing?

I suspect the answer to that question lies in the character’s potential to be bad. In a sense, this potential is the mirror image of what makes a villain sexy – the potential to be good. A villain who is all bad generally comes across as boring. Most heroes suffer from the same 2D malaise. Sexy villains and heroes, however, have the potential to be both good and bad, or at least to swing between the two, so we are left wondering how they will end up.  That is my theory at any rate.

All theorizing aside, however, the one thing I am quite certain about is that I will be reading more about John Ray, and I hope you do too. Very highly recommended.

cheers

Meeks


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