by Christopher Meeks
Publisher: White Wiskers Press (June 15, 2013)
Available in: Print & eBook, 242 pages
Note: several major and many minor edits on November 19th.
This is a thriller, a page turner with a noir edge and elements of a romance woven in. But it is much more. The use of metaphor and the emphasis of aspects that appear to reflect a theme raise it to the level of literary in my eyes.
The theme on first blush is ineffable and I will be struggling as I attempt to put it into words as it is more of a strong feeling tone at this point. I would need a second read through once I'm able to hold the entire story arc in my mind like a faceted jewel to do it justice. Making it harder is the convention of book blogging to take extreme care not to give spoilers and when you are dealing with a thriller or mystery that constraint is even stricter.
Sometimes I miss the early days of my blog when I knew nothing about book blogging and its subtle rules and didn't have an audience that I was aware of and was still naive enough to let rip off the cuff when I was touched or excited about a book. This was before I knew about ARCs and what seemed at the time a marvelous opportunity to get free books. The only kind I could afford. And to get them before the libraries had them and thus bypass those first several months of waiting on my hold to rise to the top.
But there is always a trade off isn't there? Nothing is ever really free.
For me the price I pay is loosing the freedom to say what's really on my mind and the time to keep up with my favorite writers living and dead. I've stopped rereading Flannery O'Connor, Jane Austen, Mark Twain and Tolstoy. To name just a few of the latter. I've missed more than half of the last ten from Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King whom I'd followed since the early 80s, and all of Alice Munro, Margaret Drabble, Barbara Kingsolver and Margaret Atwood since before 2001 which was six or seven years before I started getting ARCs so that was more about differences in selections between the library systems in the Rogue Valley OR and The Silicon Valley CA where we lived for two years before the tech bubble broke.
And apparently it isn't just the size of the library systems for as I've wandered the stacks of my childhood library in Longview WA this past year I've noticed I see a selection that resembles the one in Sunnyvale CA more than that of the Southern Oregon Library System with two large libraries and 13 rural branches and the two campus branches of the Rogue Valley Community College.
I don't know how to do a scientific analysis but my gut tells me that has to do with the attitudes of the local community and politicians. Support for funding services of any kind is low in Southern Oregon with a very loud anti-tax crowd and officials, most male businessmen, who deem their caste a dime's thickness below divinity and did not blush when bragging that they got to the top of their current pinnacle having never set foot in a library. Then watched with satisfaction when their fellow fundamentalists in DC with the same doctrine and loud bull horns, acquired the power in 2006 and refused to renew the funding the system had depended on for decades. Then together they turned their bull horns on the valley during the bond campaign to replace that funding and forced its defeat. And then stood by with indifference as all fifteen branches closed their doors in 2007.
That funding was not sourced by tax dollars. It was more like a trust fund created during Teddy Roosevelt's Presidency as reparations for the looting over the previous decades by the Robber Barons. Stopping the use of the funds from the forest lands held in trust is the first step toward returning them to private ownership so strip mining and clear cutting can resume.
Bitter much? Yeah, a bit still. But there has been a positive trade off.
It was during those six months without a library that I went from a dilettante blogger who'd posted less than once a week to posting daily. It was during that time I discovered the free public domain ebook collections, the power of Google, book blogs and ARCs. It's also when I discovered online writer support groups, tutorials on creative writing and gathered my courage to return to my own fiction and poetry writing after grieving for six years over the loss of all my WIP files except for 100 pages of excerpts and short pieces that I'd deemed worthy of the ink and paper to make hard copy and kept in a single portable folder that traveled with me when we stepped onto a bus in San Jose with one large duffle, two backpacks, two cat crates and the large beach bag I called my purse. Leaving behind our storage unit--forever as it turned out.
But I've digressed yet again. I've been doing that a lot lately. I've deleted swathes of text below the third paragraph twice and was about to do it again when I reread that paragraph's first sentence: The theme on first blush is ineffable and I will be struggling as I attempt to put it into words... And it clicked and I realized that if I deleted the following paragraphs I would just find another tangent because this is how I figure out what I'm trying to say.
So bear with me please as I remain on this path. I will bring it back to the topic in that third paragraph. The ineffable theme of Blood Drama. And now that I understand what I've been trying to do I see the path back a bit clearer. I do not think in the tidy linear flow charts of rhetoric and dialectics. I think in images, both still shot and moving and both containing stories that I cannot explain short of telling them whole. It brings to mind this quote from Flannery O'Conner: “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.” When I first read that in my early twenties I had the most electrical Aha! moment that gave me back to myself. I began to accept my way of thinking as legitimate and slowly stopped feeling inferior to the linear thinkers and stopped engaging in debates with my brother and husband who were both black and white linear thinkers who loved to argue. At least at that time when in there twenties. They've both mellowed in the last thirty years.
OK time to wrap this up. Once I realized what I'd been trying to do with my memoir-like stories I looked for commonalities between this ramble and the other two. And sure enough there was one. All three were trying to get at the concept of how one reacts to adversity--with passive acceptance tinged with pessimism and despair or proactive acceptance honed with hope and effort and a willingness to see new opportunities in the situation and take them on with vigor.
In story this is the difference between a character who is willing to grow and one who is not. The passive's story will fizzle like a dud firecracker while the proactive's will take off like a rocket breaking the bond of gravity. Both Ian Nash, the protagonist, and FBI Agent in charge of the case, Aleece Medina, who has the role of Ian's antagonist are strongly proactive. Both are exquisitely drawn with clear motives that drive their actions which are often at odds with each other. And both, though they often do aggravating, off putting things are easy to empathize with and once you are connected to them you are connected to the heart of the story and though it is their actions that drive the story is who they are that makes you care enough to keep turning the pages. For me anyway. The action in and of itself is never enough to keep me involved. I need to care deeply about those who act and react to the onslaught of events and the repercussions of thier actions.
Medina's actions grow out of her gut instincts backed up by decades of experience. Ian's action's are rooted in his understanding of the theory of story and drama after years of academic study in the field of theater and the years he's worked on a dissertation about the playwrite Mamet. Whenever he's confused by the actions of those around him he pulls up a quote from Mamet or other writers or from plays and other story forms that helps him sort it out and find a direction to aim his action. Sometime he blurts it out but mostly he keeps it to himself. Sometimes it directs him true and sometimes leads him astray for his motives are not always pure but tainted by the seething rage his traumatic experience at the hands of his kidnappers instilled in him.
Medina wants justice as defined by the law but Ian wants revenge. It's easy to understand why and some might agree its the way to go even though they themselves have never experienced the level of brutality Ian had. But I rooted for him to snap out of it before he was was further damaged by his own actions which in his fantasy rose to an equivalent level of brutality. Brutality, in my opinion, rebounds upon the the perpetrator at least as severely as on the victim.
The novel began with Ian being booted out of his dissertation program. Though it was partly campus politics that forced it, he'd probably have been protected from it if he'd had a strong dissertation in the works but as he was told, he was not breaking new ground. I suspect that after the events in this story he'd have an easier time writing a dissertation with the heart and originality his first attempt lacked because now, having used it to comprehend the traumatic events and contrive responses, he has real world visceral knowledge of the dry theory.
I had more to say but I have to stop now. I've officially missed my committed date as it just passed midnight. I cringe at the realization I can't do a line edit. I can no longer bring the words into focus. Forgive the errors some of which could be as big as misplaced phrases as I kept loosing the cursor and continuing to type for several seconds before I realized it and I'm not sure I found them all.
Well I guess I've made it obvious that I was moved by this story and intensely intrigued. I'm fairly sure I'll want to reread it. It is gems like this one and many others I've encountered as ARCs once I'd shifted my aspirations from the big names and big house titles to the indie small press and self pub titles, that keep me coming back in spite of the penalties I mentioned earlier.
From the Publishers:
Everyone has a bad day. Graduate student Ian Nash has lost his girlfriend in addition to being dropped from a Ph.D. program in theatre at a Southern California university. When he stops at a local coffee shop in the lobby of a bank to apply for a job, the proverbial organic matter hits the fan. A gang of four robs the bank, and things get bloody. Ian is taken hostage by the robbers when the police show up. Now he has to save his life.FBI Special Agent Aleece Medina’s analysis of the bloody bank heist drives her into the pursuit of a robbery gang headed by two women. She doesn’t anticipate how this robbery will pit her against both the bandits and the male higher-ups in the FBI while the media heats up during a giant manhunt.The robbers are about to kill Ian, and all he has at hand is his knowledge of the stage.
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