Review: Hope Road by John Barlow

13243487Review by Matt Schiariti

 

John Ray: prodigal son of the infamous Tony Ray crime family.  He’d always wanted to be cut from a different cloth.  He was the one they were most proud of.  The straight shooter, the legitimate one.  Top honors in school, university degree.  He’d left home for over two decades, looking to wipe the grime of the family name off of himself.  To take things one step further, he turned his father’s high-end used car business into a completely legit and successful operation.  John Ray thought he’d separated himself from the old ‘family business’.  That is, until a dead prostitute is found in the trunk of one his cars along with 50K in counterfeit money, and his best friend and employee, Freddie, is suspected of the crime.  Not only does John take it upon himself to clear his best friend’s name, but he’s also trying to prove that the fake money wasn’t his.   It doesn’t help his cause any that his father was well known for running counterfeit money back in his heyday.  There’s only one person in the police force who believes him:  Denise Denton.  When his brother was murdered, she was the only one there for him.  Two years later, they’re sleeping together.  Life for her isn’t about to get any easier either when she’s the only alibi he’s got.  When you’re around John Ray, his past has a habit of rubbing off on you.

This book wasn’t quite what I was expecting.  I was actually thinking it was going to be a police procedural, dealing heavily with the case from the police side of the fence, especially since the main love interest, Denise, is a police officer.  What it turned out to be, however, was more of an amateur sleuthing novel.

John Ray is the central figure in the story.  The majority of it gets told from his perspective.  As a result, there isn’t much police procedure involved.  In fact, just about all of the investigation is done by John himself.  The police only seemed to enter into the equation for the odd interrogation session here and there and when John gives them information he finds as he sniffs around trying to clear his friend of the murder.  Denise is totally taken out of the situation for obvious conflict-of-interest reasons.

Insofar as the characters go, John is fleshed out well enough, being that he’s the central character.  Frankly, anybody familiar with The Godfather, especially Michael, should be able to see the parallels here.  The one good son in a crime family, trying to make good in spite of his family’s sordid past and name, yet still finding himself thrown into the middle of it. Sins of the father, etc., etc.  But I found the problem to be with the secondary characters.  They’re just kind of ‘there’.  Denise being a cop doesn’t enter into the story much, and she doesn’t get enough page time for her character to develop.  The same can be said for the two lead officers on the case, Baron and Steele.  They’re just kind of ‘there’, for lack of a better word.  Connie, John’s distant relative and employee at Tony Ray’s Motors, does benefit from more page time, and as such is probably the most fleshed out of all the backup players.

While the writing is solid overall, it’s told in the present tense.  I won’t say that I dislike present tense but in the interest of full disclosure, I’m not entirely comfortable reading it.  That is my own personal preference, though, and shouldn’t be taken as a knock against the author.  To continue with the writing, I found that sometimes it was difficult to tell who the point-of-view character was in certain scenes.  While it wasn’t rampant, the POV did get loose from time to time in mid-scene and I wasn’t always sure whose eyes I was supposed to be seeing things through.

The plot was solid with a good dash of twists and turns.  The whodunit aspect was handled well and the ending was pretty satisfying.  There aren’t any fast ones being pulled here and when everything is solved, it makes complete sense.  It’s nice not to have any trickery thrown in.

So, all in all a solid read.  Did I love it?  No, but I enjoyed it more often than not, despite some things that weren’t to my liking.  Primarily, I would have liked to have seen more from the police investigative side and more from Denise’s perspective.

 

Title:  Hope Road

Author:  John Barlow

Genre:  Mystery/Thriller

Publication:  Storm Books (December 13, 2011)

Price:  $3.99 (Kindle)

Author’s Website:  http://www.johnbarlow.net/

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