Hard Lines by Dave Conifer

Review by Matt Schiariti

Jake Zarephath’s life couldn’t be better.  He’s the star player for the Appalachian University football team. For the first time in years, the team actually has a chance to go all the way to the state championship, mostly thanks to Jake’s peerless athletic skills.  What makes it extra sweet is that they told him he couldn’t do it.  A star player in High School, college scouts called him too small for Division 1.  As a result he lingered around in a Junior College for two years until he caught the eye of Appalachian.  It wasn’t an easy road for Jake, but he’s proven them wrong.  He has the respect of his teammates, coaches, the sports media and the entire school.  He’s living the dream—until he wakes up one morning in a strange room after a party he went to with Robin, a quiet and mysterious acquaintance of his.  When she’s not in the room the following morning, he thinks nothing of it and goes about his business, attending classes and football practice.  Everything’s seemingly normal until two police officers come knocking on the door.

Robin has accused Jake of rape.  From that point on, his world begins to tear apart at the seams and even the people who seem to be on his side have their own agenda.

Much like his novel E-Bully, Conifer writes another gripping story that is also very topical, but where E-Bully dealt with cyber bullying and its affect on teens, Hard Lines deals heavily with the juggernaut that is high level college sports.  College sports are big business.  They mean money for the school and national recognition.  There are some people that are willing to do just about anything to bury things that could sully the school’s reputation.  With headlines about college scandals like that of Penn State so fresh in the collective memory, Hard Lines has that ‘ripped from the headlines’ feel.

While Hard Lines uses football as a backdrop, it’s also about choices and their consequences.  As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished–a theme that overlays every facet of the novel—and  sometimes the people who say they’re looking out for you aren’t always as sincere as they seem.  When Jake starts to go against the establishment, he finds that out the hard way.

Of course, without well written characters, the story—no matter how good—wouldn’t mean much.  As always, Conifer pens a well written cast.  Jake is upstanding and likeable, but naïve to a fault.  Robin is reserved and troubled.  The supporting cast, including the coaches, administration, teammates, and even some of the local sports media are also a pleasure to read, each with their own mannerisms and agendas.

As for the writing style, it’s clean and fast.  The dialogue pops and conversations are genuine.  There are several football game sequences and Conifer writes them in such a way that the reader will feel like they’re inside Jake’s helmet, playing in front of thousands of people, always on the verge of making a huge play.   In addition, he really puts his characters through the wringer at just the right times, which helps ratchet up the tension more and more as the book progresses.  There are many times when Jake wonders who he can trust; you can’t help but get inside the heads of his point of view characters.

Conifer’s not afraid to do things differently.  He doesn’t just write thrillers or mysteries.  He covers a broad range of subjects.  From his twist on the Kennedy assassination in Man of Steel to topical fiction like E-Bully,  to mystery thrillers like Primary Justice and the revenge-heavy and twisted Wrecker, Dave Conifer proves again with Hard Lines that he’s got a large bag of tricks and the ability to put them on paper.

Hard Lines is a fantastic Sampson and Delilah story, filled with well-drawn characters, tight plot and fast flow.  Conifer is an excellent writer and I wouldn’t be surprised if he breaks big, sooner rather than later.  And who knows?  Hard Lines could be the catalyst for that.  Highly recommended.

Title:  Hard Lines

Author:  Dave Conifer

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

Publishing:  Dave Conifer

Price:  $0.99 (Kindle)

Author’s Website:  http://daveconifer.blogspot.com/

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