Wednesday, January 25, 2012

LOST: An independent novel review

With his second novel, RS Guthrie has hit his stride.
RS Guthrie, author of Black Beast and Lost

Lost is the sequel to the excellent Black Beast, and features the same protagonist, Denver detective “Bobby Mac” Macaulay. This story pursues the same themes: an unending struggle against ancient evil, fought by a man destined to be virtue’s champion.

This second installment in the Clan of MacAulay series is leaner than the first, with a tighter writing style. It’s an enjoyable, fast and easy read, but it’s shorter than the first book. This is a smart move—Guthrie leaves you wanting more.

I have to admit, I was completely engrossed in this story. I read this e-book on my iPad in record time, and I was feeling stressed as I neared the end. I had to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next, but I was dreading the end because there would be no more to read! At least for a few months, until Guthrie brings out the third and last installment in this particular story (but, he promises, not the last appearance of Bobby Mac).

Plot
Lost picks up some months after the action in Black Beast, and explores more of the family situation of hero, Bobby Mac. This time, Guthrie delves into the relationship between Bobby and his brother, Jackson, who is a police chief in a small town in northern Idaho. Jackson calls Bobby for his help in solving a multiple murder that’s coupled with the disappearance of a child.

The part of Black Beast that I felt was strongest was the emotional conflict the character feels over his personal relationships with his partners, lovers and son. Now, Guthrie looks at the troubled, contradictory and completely believable relationship between these two brothers. The only criticism is that I would have loved to have read more about that relationship, maybe through a flashback or something.

Characters
Bobby and Jackson Macaulay are drawn from real life and show the weaknesses and strengths that any reader will recognize. Jackson, in fact, reminded me so much of one of my father’s friends, I could almost hear his voice.

I would have liked to read a few more pages about the love interest, Amanda. She is a well-drawn character, a believable career woman with complex emotions and a complicated life. But then, Guthrie almost ruthlessly adhered to the rule of moving the story forward.

The only character that seems a little flat is Father Meyer, Bobby Mac’s cousin. He seems more of a foil than anything else, the character who finds clues for the hero and then gets flattened by a falling anvil or piano.

Style
Guthrie clearly knows how to write. He follows the “show, don’t tell” rule, letting characters’ actions show their thoughts and motivations. He tells us only as much back story as readers need to understand what’s going on. This is a critical mistake that many new writers make—dropping long expositions about what a minor character did to explain what’s going on. Like “Office Kevin, having skipped breakfast that morning, scarfed down the last two doughnuts. It was okay, though, because he worked out regularly, as evidenced by his flat belly.” Or worse, “Jane listened sympathetically. She had been dumped by boyfriends twice in the past year.”

However, Guthrie does make full use of his descriptive chops where he can take advantage of the setting, and describes the mountain scenes, for instance, where it makes sense in the story.

He has the talent to cross some genre boundaries, skilfully blending an investigative cop story and an occult horror novel. That’s not easy to write without being completely cheesy, but there’s not a hint of dairy product anywhere. If you can accept the existence of a personification of evil, then the whole story is not just plausible, it’s hair-raisingly realistic.

With Lost, as with Black Beast, Rob Guthrie explodes the myth that commercial publishers have a lock on quality writing. I can only look forward to more from this author.

Without reservation, 5 stars.

5 comments:

  1. This is a fine review, Scott, of Rob's sequel. I was thoroughly engrossed by Black Beast, so really looking forward to Lost! Thank you for a really detailed, helpful review!!

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  2. This is a fantastic review! I've never heard of this author, but will look him up.

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    1. And that's why I review independent authors.

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  3. Great review, Scott. I think the ability to cross genres would be one of the toughest writing accomplishments to do well. That you feel Rob Guthrie does "skillfully ... without being completely cheesy" says a lot about Guthrie as an author and makes me want to read his books (I'll start with Black Beast). I am curious as to how writers blend the two, or any two, as I am beginning a speculative fiction, myself. Do you have other recommendations where writers successfully blend two or more genres?

    Elaine Sangiolo
    Book Marketing Manager: Cathedral of Dreams, A Kingdom's Possession
    Booktrope Publishing
    www.booktrope.com
    www.booktropepublishing.com
    @inkdipped

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    1. There are plenty of writers blending and crossing genre boundaries. Most of the books that I review do that. Some even create new genres out of sheer creativity.

      The Austin Job, for instance, not only crosses several genre lines, but created a new genre. Check out that review.

      And not to waste an opportunity for a plug, my own novel, The Bones of the Earth, crosses the historical fiction-fantasy-coming-of-age boundaries, as well.

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