Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Desert Places by Blake Crouch

Desert Places is a gripping, well-paced quick read. It's been plugged---deservedly, I think---by The Almighty Konrath, among others and I read it straight through in one sitting.

The plot centers around thriller writer Andrew Thomas, who one day receives a shocking letter:

"Greetings. There is a body buried on your property, covered in your blood. The unfortunate young lady's name is Rita Jones. In her jeans pocket you'll find a slip of paper with a phone number on it. Call that number. If I have not heard from you by 8:00 p.m., the police will receive an anonymous call. I'll tell them where Rita Jones is buried on your property, how you killed her, and where the murder weapon can be found in your house (I do believe a paring knife is missing from your kitchen.) I strongly advise against going to the police, as I am always watching you."

Things progress from there to a battle of wits, among other battles, between Andrew and the murderer of the unfortunate lady, who has a connection to him I won't spoil. Suffice it to say that it certainly held my attention!

Parts of the book were very graphic, which might be an issue for some people. But if you like this sort of novel, I think this is an excellent specimen. The characterizations were nicely done (the killer's behaviour is 'explained' for those who seek such things, but the killer himself is ambivalent when this explanation is offered to him). I found that the main character was not as sympathetic to me by the end as he was when we started, and I think I was supposed to feel that way.

My one quibble? I had some formatting complaints. There were numerous sections of interior monologue which were not marked off by quotations or by italic formatting, as per standard. I found it distracting to have them inserted into bits of dialogue or distraction and not be marked off somehow. There were at least two other sections were italics were used, so the author clearly knows how to use them from a technical 'formatting of the book' standpoint. I have to assume that his decision not to use them elsewhere was a stylistic one, and it didn't work for me.

So, minus half a point for that. I am giving this a 3.5/5, but it would have been a solid 4 otherwise, and that's the highest mark I give a genre book. If you like cat-and-mouse suspense, and you have a tolerance for a little gore here and there, this is a book that'll keep you up to finish reading. Recommended.

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