Tag Archives: Crime-and-Punishment

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


Ian’s Story – a review

I finished reading Ian’s Story almost two weeks ago now and resisted the urge to review it straight away – not because I did not enjoy it but because I wanted to do it justice.

Quite frankly, my initial reaction to Ian’s Story was a sort of stunned ‘oh my god’. It really is that good. Not until later did my brain kick in to tell me why it was so good. Not since reading Crime and Punishment have I read a psychological novel that delved so deeply into the psyche of a flawed man or made me feel so much compassion for a fictional character.

Ian is flawed and he does end up making an awful mistake, one that teeters on the edge of legal paedophilia, yet in exploring  how and why he got to that point, Stephen Faulds makes it possible for us to forgive Ian even though he cannot seem to forgive himself.

Do no make the mistake of thinking that this novel is a justification or apology for paedophilia – it’s not. Just as Crime and Punishment is not a justification for murder, Ian’s Story is not a justification – its a journey, a journey that explores the crime, the punishment and the salvation that can result from such a descent into hell.

Following Ian on this journey is not a casual read. You will not dip into this book on a rainy weekend when you have nothing better to do.  It will grab you and it will not let you go until the very last page because, for all his flaws, Ian’s life will resonate with anyone who has ever searched for meaning in life, anyone who has ever been trapped by duty and the desire to ‘do the right thing’, anyone who has ever been lonely or fallen in love with an unattainable mirage. In short, anyone with a heartbeat and human DNA.

On the technical side I might argue with Stephen Faulds about how he structured the story yet when I sat down and thought about how I would have restructured it [were I an editor] I found that I could not really think of a ‘better’ way of doing it. So I have to say that the structure is a little quirky but will make sense at the end. I should add that this quirkiness does not detract from the story or my enjoyment of it.

I cannot fault Stephen Faulds in the area of prose either. His words flowed effortlessly from start to finish with no jarring ‘what the…?’ moments. To be honest I stopped being aware of the ‘prose’ after the first few paragraphs because it did what all good prose should do – it drew me in and carried me along without drawing attention to itself. I did not read about Ian, I saw him, I saw his poor troubled wife, I saw the emotionally impoverished life they lead. Only when I put the book down for the last time did I become aware of how beautiful the words had been.

There is nothing indie about Ian’s Story. It is the work of a mature writer who knows what he’s doing and does it extraordinarily well. More importantly, Ian’s Story has a depth that will appeal to anyone interested in what makes us all human.

Very highly recommended.


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