Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Why You were Taken by JT Lawrence

Night. A disheveled and and apparently deranged woman. A mysterious warning. A key. To what?And we are off on a technological/medical/mystery thriller.

Titles usually don't play a big part when I select a book but Why You Were Taken got my attention. A simple declarative statement. The promise a question will be answered. The "you" makes it personal.

Once inside I was not disappointed. WYWT appealed to me from the start with its combination of mystery, investigation, intriguing technology, strong characters, and thrilling action.

I'd also put it in the realm of near sci-fi. "Near" because the technology isn't all that farfetched: algae powered street lights, biomorphic buildings, locket cameras, superblack clothing, snakewatches -- I don't know what a snakewatch is but I want one. The author doesn't dwell on or over explain the technology, it just is.

The main story opens in 2021 in a not quite dystopian Johannesburg, SA.
It's not quite dystopian but the potential is there: blackouts, undrinkable tap water, an infertility crises, soaring suicide stats, personal autos have all but disappeared. Ok, the last one might not be so bad. If you follow news in South Africa you'll know that two of those events already threaten SA: energy and water are at the crises stage. Combining contemporary and future societal elements does a lot to bind the story together.

Balancing the story's present, are journal entries from a young woman, Anne, in 1987 Johannesburg. She's in the throws of her own crises, unmarried and pregnant. But through her eyes we get snippets of apartheid South Africa, world events, what she's reading, watching, and listening to, how her life plays out. Trust me, this blends into the story and enhances it.

Previously I said I liked the strong characters. In Kirsten Lovell and Seth Denicker, Lawrence has created two of the more interesting characters I've encountered. Kirsten is a photographer, a victim of the infertility crises, and her parents have just been murdered. She is also a synesthete where one type of sensation evokes another. For Kirsten, sounds produce smells, sensations are seen as colors. Backing up Kristen is Keke, a journalist and possibly my favorite character. I'm a sucker for the spirited sidekick. Seth is as creative as Kirsten but in a different way. He is a skilled mathematician and a creative bioengineering designer. We see him working on a new drug, moving molecules around to achieve the desired effect. He's like a graphic artist creating a design but with molecules instead of ink.

Why You Were Taken is a good read. It has the story, setting, and characters to pull you in and the legs to make you keep reading. It also has things that make you go "hmm, I wonder if...". There is at least one more story to be told with these characters and I hope the author will write that story some day. That means you need to buy this book.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

King of Sorrow by James Fouche

I was much taken with James Fouche's first book, Jack Hanger. The protagonist was muscle for a gangster but now a video store clerk afflicted with a particular form of OCD. I liked the way James developed the unusual character and the story. 

James let me read KoS while it was still a manuscript —without the ending let me add —and I loved it. So I was pleased when it came out last year and I could read the edited version and find out how it ends. 

Where Jack Hanger was set in a tightly restricted world, James set his sights higher with KoS which takes place in the world of high finance in South Africa and Nigeria.

The story:

David Harlem is a nice guy and wealthy property developer in Cape Town. He has a golden touch and is very generous with his wealth. Paradoxically, he more he gives away, the richer he gets. He is also still haunted by the horrific deaths of his wife and children some years earlier. David finds his life unsatisfying and is selling his company and starting over. He is the king of his world but also king of sorrow.

Kerin Miller is at the opposite end of the economic scale. She is a single, divorced mother of two living in a cramped apartment with her mother and children. Karin is one paycheck away from destitution and has just been retrenched from her waitress job. She has her sorrows as well with no prospects and no money. Hers was not a conventional sorrow. The author uses Kerin's situation to reference some of the economic issues at play in South Africa. Go to Wikipedia, you'll know when.

Kerin and David meet on a rainy Cape Town street at night and, despite the near disastrous circumstances, begin cautiously circling the possibility of a relationship. Kerin is suspicious and then merely wary.

Behind the scenes there are forces at work that would like nothing more than to kill the sale of David's company. There is an antagonist who becomes increasingly desperate and irrational.

At its foundation, KoS is a white collar crime story set around Cape Town. This is the element that sets everything in motion. But it is more than that because there is the story of the developing relationship between two broken people from very different worlds. It is the relationship between wealthy property developer David Harlem and retrenched waitress Kerin Miller that gives the story its heart.
The second act shifts smoothly into violent action thriller mode. James shows the action from three viewpoints which heightens the tension. 

Also a nice side bit of detective/forensics work takes place with some crime scene investigation that I hadn't run in to before.

Thinking back, KoS incorporates several plot modes: crime (white collar); drama (much of it of the relationship kind); violent action thriller (there will be blood); and a bit of police procedural/forensics.

The pacing of the story is good, not dwelling too much on one thing and it moves to an unrushed and satisfying conclusion. Not to curse the author bit sequel-ites but I wouldn't mind knowing what happens after this story ends.

enjoyed KoS a great deal. The descriptions about property development and how someone could commit fraud is interesting and not at all dry reading. The main characters, David and Kerin are people I care about and the sorrow that characterizes them does not become maudlin.

James also turns a neat phrase. Such as: "The sound of the car door slamming shut, greeting mechanism and shuddering grip, was the identical to the recoil from a silenced rifle." David was a recce in the South African army and the idea that a common event like closing a car door could trigger emotional memories is a nice touch.

King of Sorrow is a good read. I like the way Fouche balances the white collar crime and relationship drama offset with some good violent thriller action. I also liked the contemporary South African atmosphere of KoS which added to my enjoyment of the story. With Jack Hanger and King of Sorrow having different subjects and approaches to story telling, I'm looking forward to what James comes up with next.

James Fouche is a South African crime writer, writing from George, western Cape. You can find him on his Facebook page.