Tuesday, May 18, 2010

NEW BOOK! Review: When bad guys go good

I told you a review of Emily St. John Mandel's The Singer's Gun was coming...wait no more!

Anton Waker has always been surrounded by shady business. He grew up with parents that made a living off selling stolen goods; his cousin Aria trained him to shoplift at an early age; and eventually, Aria led Anton down his own path of illegal business—selling fake passports and social security cards. They've forged a successful business—and Anton calls it the easier job he's ever had—but for the past several years, Anton has distanced himself from the illegal business market and built a life he doesn't have to lie about, complete with office job, apartment, and fiancée.

All of that comes to a crashing halt when Aria blackmails Anton into helping her with one last transaction—one that ends up jeopardizing the lifestyle he's worked hard to attain and leaves him on the island of Ischia for months...just waiting to complete the transaction so he can move on with his life.

When I went to the book's launch party a couple weeks ago, the author described her novels as "contemporary noir" and that is a very good description that I hadn't even considered. The whole tone of The Singer's Gun is a little bit mysterious and a little bit dark as the story slowly and carefully unfolds. (To give you an idea of the tone, the voice reading this in my head was that of a detective from 1940s noir, with his feet on the desk, a drink in hand, and a cigarette lisp.) You always get the feeling that there is some little unknown detail that would make everything fall into place, and it's satisfying when these details are gradually revealed. Anton is a likable character and complex enough to keep you wanting to know what decisions he'll make and how it will all end. A supporting cast with depth contributes to the draw, though upon finishing the book, I was a little disappointed that the story of some characters had no real conclusion.

One thing is very clear: Mandel writes with layers. She seamlessly (and seemingly effortlessly!) jumps back and forth in time to reveal details of the story's full context. It's an intelligent, well-crafted thriller with characters that are complex enough to hook the reader.

Review copy provided by the publisher (Unbridled Books).


J.T. Oldfield said...

I have a copy of this but haven't gotten to it yet. Contemporary Noir sure makes it sound interesting as far as descriptions go!

softdrink said...

I'm looking forward to getting my hands on this one!

Kari said...

Enjoy! The author will actually be participating in a couple BEA week things, so be sure to hunt her down!