Tag Archives: Leeds

The Communion of Saints – a review

I haven’t done a review in a long time, but I finished The Communion of Saints last night, and I simply had to review it.

But first a little background. Communion is the third novel in the John Ray series that began with Hope Road and continued with Father and Son. My reviews of Hope Road and Father and Son are here and here. It’s been a long time between drinks, but the wait was worth it. Here is the review I just posted on Amazon:

Like ‘Hope Road’ and ‘Father and Son’,  the first two John Ray thrillers, The Communion of Saints is that rare beast: a character driven genre novel. And like its predecessors, Communion is brilliant.

The Communion of Saints can be read as a standalone novel because the author weaves enough prior knowledge into the story to make the character and motivation of the protagonist  realistic and satisfying. Nevertheless,  I highly recommend that you read the earlier novels first.

Why? Because all three novels are character driven thrillers, and it’s the character of John Ray, the protagonist, that sucks you in and keeps you turning the pages.

John Ray is the last surviving member of a crime family. He’s the white sheep, the one that broke away and tried to live a straight life. But it’s hard to remain divorced from your past when you see your brother shot to death in front of your eyes. It’s even harder to stay detached when the Law tries to lay every nasty crime at your door.

After the gruesome death of his father, the old crime boss, John Ray tries to start afresh. He gives his business away and takes a job as a lowly lecturer’s assistant, but he’s shrivelling up inside.

Enter Detective Chief Superintendent Shirley Kirk. She needs John’s help. Or, to be more exact, she needs the help of his historical links to the underworld because someone is making allegations of child abuse against an institution to which they both have ties.

In the process of unravelling truth from lies, John discovers yet more about his own past, none of it good. He also becomes a suspect in two murders, simply because of who he is.

The plot is tight, with no ‘what the…?’ moments, and the prose is elegant, painting a vivid picture of the characters and their world without ever being flowery or pretentious. But the true joy of Communion is in the characters. Not even the walk on/walk off characters are two dimensional. All of them possess a vitality that makes them feel real, no matter how minor.

As for John Ray and Shirley Kirk, they’re real people to me.  I care about them. I’d like to meet them, talk to them, spend time with them. More importantly, they are people I will not forget.

I cannot think of greater praise for an author’s work.

Something I didn’t write in the review was that I wondered whether I’d still have a wee bit of a crush on the charming rogue, John Ray. The answer is yes. He’s still a bad boy with heart, and we know how women like them. 😀

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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