Saturday, August 18, 2018

Thinking Out Loud on the Homefront: New Voices in an Old Genre

Earlier this year I read a bunch of books in a row that left a mark on me that was significant enough to write some sort of quasi-review. Then the summer months arrived and I spent what seemed to be every waking moment running around with my kids getting them from place to place. What little time was left for myself was spent outside doing some sort of yard work or inside trying to catch up on house cleaning.

In short, reading has taken a back seat for the past 2 months. I had been averaging about 5 books a month up through May. Since June that number had dropped substantially and my "to read" list had grown longer.

With summer winding down, I've been able to slowly get back into the swing of things. After a handful of so-so titles, I happened upon Sirens at the Lee-Whedon Library in Medina. Published earlier this year, and added to the library's inventory in March, it was still found under the New Releases section, and frankly that is where most of the best books I have read this year have been found.
Written by Joseph Knox, Sirens follows a Manchester-based detective named Aidan Waits on a deep undercover mission to remove a power player's teenage daughter from a bad situation. The story features a bit of everything: drugs, sex, murder, corruption, blackmail. On the surface, yes, it may sound like a story you may have seen play out on film or on any number of episodes of Law & Order. But something about this book grabbed me, so I grabbed back, and was not disappointed.
Perhaps it was the fact that I don't typically read crime novels. Or to be more specific, I don't typically read dark crime novels. Or, perhaps it was the fact that Sirens was Knox's debut novel and those tend to be many authors' best work, in my opinion, because of the unbridled passion the novel is written in order to achieve publication. Whatever the reason, I dove into Sirens.
Within a few pages I learned about the demons that haunted Detective Waits, what his mission would entail, and was introduced to a few major characters. By the end of the first third of the book, everything clicked and the last two-thirds played out in my head with old-style private detective noir music playing in my mind. The story was modern, yet timeless. It felt fresh. I don't know whether that is because crime novels don't usually appeal to me, but I should note that older crime tales on film have always been among my favorite. (Think The Maltese Falcon. Think White Heat.)
As Knox brought Sirens along, he dropped certain clues along the way that, looking back, make the ultimate outcome of the whodunit a bit more obvious. However, those clues aren't necessarily revealed as clues along the way. Some are simple one-off lines that a less attentive reader might miss. To me, that is what made this such an enjoyable book to read.
By the end of the story, as the reader follows Waits through several concluding steps in his undercover operation, I couldn't help but think of the book playing out like a movie starring someone like Humphrey Bogart as Watts, complete with a pinstriped suit, trench coat, and fedora.  
Upon finishing Sirens, I immediately sent a tweet to the author, letting him know how much I enjoyed his work. His enthusiastic response is one of the few redeeming qualities of social media. How often could something like that have happened just 20 years ago? And, sure enough, another person saw what I wrote and encouraged me to read a new novel called The Silent Man. A quick bit of web searching led me to find out that it is also by Knox, and also features Waits as the main protagonist.

And just like that, my to-read list grew. Again.
Howie Balaban is officially at the halfway point of his stated reading goal for the year. He plans on making up all the lost momentum by the end of September.