Thursday, June 13, 2013

Independent book review: Reckoning, by RS Guthrie

 With Reckoning, RS Guthrie takes the fiction writer’s rule book, shreds it in mighty fingers and reassembles it into a new way of engaging audiences.
Reckoning is the third of Guthrie’s books to feature Denver Detective Robert Macaulay, also known as Bobby Mac and also known as the heir to the occult power of Clan MacAulay.

Busting through the genre boundaries

Reckoning, like Black Beast and LOST, the previous Bobby Mac novels, is a noir cop thriller, a police procedural whose villain just happens to be (spoiler alert!) a demon.
Right there, he’s broken the artificial boundaries imposed on genres. Guthrie’s Bobby Mac novels read like gritty cop stories, yet somehow the supernatural elements fit perfectly.
Another rule that he breaks: modulating between the first and third person perspective. Most of the book is narrated by Bobby Mac, and Guthrie’s command of the tough, no-nonsense cop dialect (ever notice how cops all sound the same, no matter where they come from?) is flawless. But where the story needs a third-person omniscient POV, Guthrie smoothly shifts for exactly as long as he needs to.
He has created his own style here. It's as if Bobby Mac is sitting beside you on the porch, telling you what happened. No, actually, it's more like he's sitting across a campfire on a moonless night, telling you about what is deep in those shadows. At times, Guthrie gets a little too philosophical, waxing about the relationships between parents and children or mentors and protégés; occasionally, I started to lose patience. But for all that, Guthrie kept me flipping pages (or flicking my iPad screen, to be precise).


This trilogy is all about the battle between a demon, Samhain, who is opposed on earth primarily by the Clan MacAulay of Scotland. Today, that clan is represented by Detective Bobby Macaulay of the Denver police force, who has inherited the Clan’s ancient weapon against Hell, the Crucifix of Ardincaple.
Decades ago, Pink Floyd said "One day you find, 10 years have got behind you.” The story of Reckoning picks up where LOST left off, but 10 years later. Bobby Mac has remarried, had another family — triplet girls — and is starting to think about retiring from the police force. Evil returns in the form of a serial killer plaguing Denver. In a nod to noir thrillers of yore, the first case mimics the Black Dahlia.
Like any good police procedural, the story follows Bobby Mac tracking down clues and fighting against the awful realization that the enemy he knows best, and thought destroyed, has returned.

Best and worst

The best part of Guthrie’s stories are the relationships between the characters. They’re all combinations of positive and negative qualities, inconsistent and flawed. You never really know their motivations, because the characters themselves are never really sure just what combination of attitudes, fears, desires and blindnesses are driving them.
I have always enjoyed Guthrie’s descriptions of Bobby Mac and his son trying to communicate through all the layers of love and mistrust and history and baggage. However, as mentioned, this time it seemed to get a little long. The narrative seemed to keep veering off onto tangents.
Also, I felt that with this installment of the story, you really had to have read the first two books to understand what was going on.
For example, as the book approaches the final confrontation between good and evil, Bobby Mac explains "the whole story" to his partner, but not explicitly in the story. The book reads more like "I told him the whole story,” rather than recapping it, or describing some action that would encapsulate the conflict. While this technique is a good way to abbreviate another info-dump and avoid rehashing stuff that loyal readers already know, it also risks alienating those who have not read the previous installments. (Maybe it's a clever way of boosting sales of the other books.)
Overall, Reckoning, the finale of the Bobby Mac trilogy (although Guthrie keeps saying he'll have other stories about Bobby Mac) is an enjoyable, satisfying completion to the trilogy. It wraps it all up in Guthrie's lean, aggressive writing style without missing a beat or leaving a loose end untied.
And it's engaging, one of those stories you can't put down.
If you want a good read that breaks all those worn out conventions of genre boundaries and unnecessary rules, read Reckoning. But you should probably read LOST first, and probably Black Beast before that.
To get the books, the best place to start is Guthrie's website or his blog. Or visit his Amazon author's page.
You can also get a signed copy of Reckoning directly from Rob.

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