Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Review of The Lonely Mile by Allan Leverone

It took me longer to read Allan Leverone’s newest than is ordinary for me.  I usually tuck into a book like a fat man confronted with barbecued beef brisket.  (Hey, I’ve been fat.  I’m allowed to make a simile with that reference.)  Don’t mistake that to mean anything negative about the book.  The book’s great.  The problem is this:  As I wait for the world to realize how brilliant my writing is and how everyone should buy my absolutely Pulitzer/Nobel Prize quality material, I support myself by ghostwriting.  Right now, I’m in the middle of writing two different suspense novels and one hardboiled crime novel.  I read four or five chapters of Lonely (Well, if famous books get shorter, intimate nicknames, why not?) and then sat down to work.  The problem?  I couldn’t give a damn about the characters in the novels someone (three different someones, actually) had paid me to write.  Instead, I found myself wondering how Leverone’s characters would react.

Take Bill Ferguson, for instance.  He is the everyman hero in The Lonely Mile.  He’s well developed by Leverone.  In some ways, he’s a typical stereotype, the small business owner struggling to keep everything together, the normal everyday guy in strange circumstances, the man with the kidnapped child; but don’t let these common thriller norms fool you.  Leverone didn’t paint the guy in such broad strokes.  As evidence, I present…an air conditioner.  Bill’s daughter is kidnapped, and in the midst of
the helpless waiting, he reflects on his lack of an air conditioner. 

Okay, if it were a scene in a movie, you’d think it was a non sequitor, but in the context of the book, it illustrates the character’s fundamental struggle and sense of failure as a man.  He’s always struggling to keep the hardware stores open, he has virtually no social life, his daughter was kidnapped, he lives in a bare bones apartment, and he doesn’t have an air conditioner.  Go ahead and read that last sentence again—yes, the kidnapping of his daughter somehow becomes another in a long list of challenges this guy faces.  I don’t know how Leverone did it, but I find myself accepting that a kidnapped child isn't just a horrible crisis.  It's one more problem that contributes to general middle-aged angst.

See, Bill Ferguson is real.  Leverone did a great job making him a living, breathing person.  So, while I’m busy trying to figure out how my (or rather, my clients’) characters would react to a situation, I find myself wondering how Ferguson would react.  Thanks Allan.  I don’t have a hard enough time switching between multiple projects, and the added stress of a completely new depth of character development was just great.  The bottom line, I had to take the book in small doses to keep myself from creating Ferguson clones.

Having said that, Leverone’s bad guy, Martin Krall, isn’t nearly as well developed.  In fact, there are elements to his character that almost seem added by default.  It’s like there’s some great cosmic law that requires all evil serial killer predators have easily manipulated insecurities that strong female victims can exploit.  (Of course, it's only this particular victim, the one the reader cares about, who is strong.   Somehow, all of the killer’s previous victims were weak female victims.)  It’s not that Krall is one dimensional, but that all of his other dimensions are straight out of the Serial Killers for Dummies handbook.  Maybe that sounds harsh, but let me point out that I felt the same way about Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs; and I love that book. 

I loved this book as well.  It was a fun read and in many ways, it rose above its subject matter to really explore how extraordinary circumstances impact ordinary people.  Every author says that’s the goal, but most authors take extraordinary people (who happen to have mundane normal lives) and put them in those circumstances.  Leverone does a fine job with this book, and once I get past my ego issues, I’ll probably end up a better writer for having read it. 

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