Adam Bird

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Sunday, 30 October 2011

Watch out for the Bad Signs

Bad Signs

One of the highlights of any year is that time in the calendar when a favourite author brings a new novel out. Everything you read in between just plugs the gaps and anything read afterwards are just half digested words as you sit wondering how long until the next novel comes out. I’ve just closed the back cover of one of my favourite writers, Roger Ellory, his new book Bad Signs and as is customary, I thought I’d write a review and share it with you.

Bad Signs tells the story of two boys, two half-brothers and their journey growing up together, the loss of their mother at a young age to an act of senseless violence and being put in juvenile detention for nothing other than what else to do with them. The younger brother Clarence Luckman, the thinker, the boy so very unlike his violent father attributed his life to growing up under a bad star, a bad sign that follows him around like an impenetrable shadow. Clarence, along with his half-brother Elliot Danziger, known as as “Digger” are heading out of juvenile detention and up into the big house, two wasted lives destined for institutionalisation until they are broken out and taken hostage by Earl Sheridan, a degenerate of the highest order, who drags both brothers along whilst committing a string of violent crimes that inspire and terrify the two brothers to an extend that neither of their lives are the same ever again.

As with all of Ellory’s books, they are based upon a core, fundamental principal, this time around he looks at man and his ability to commit the most heinous deeds. What are the reasons, the motivations and the trigger that sets these events in motion? Bad Signs, attempts to answer these questions and once again leaves the reader thinking long afterwards, in my case, is an evil man naturally born evil, or does a switch to a dark side exist is all of us?

Just as these bigger questions and answers that are found deep inside the novel, there are many themes that appear in Bad Signs that will feel familiar to those, who like me are fans of Ellory’s work and plenty for the newcomer to appreciate and enjoy. As with all eight previous novels, we find ourselves again set in an American setting, as Texas plays host. This time however, we travel back in time to the 1960’s which helps the author with his story and the investigation technique which runs as a secondary viewpoint as the carnage unfolds. This story would not have worked had it been in a contemporary time-frame, the sixties being a time when several high profile killing sprees shocked and horrified Americans and changed the way that police investigated crimes of this sort, which is explored slightly as one of several sub-plots within the novel, the psychology and genetic make up of a psychopathic mind.

The very nature then of criminality and taking an investigative look into the minds of those who perpetrate grave acts, means that there is a level of violence in the book that might be uncomfortable reading for some. A measure of the authors skill therefore is making those deeds come across almost as a matter of fact and not gratuitously, as can be the case from time to time with authors elsewhere. But it’s not all blood and hiding behind the duvet reading the book with the light turned on, one of the things that I have celebrated and championed the author for in the past has been his ability to transcend the crime-fiction genre, which he has done once again - to a lesser degree perhaps than in A Quiet Belief in Angels and Candlemoth. Elements of romance and coming of age adds colour and vitality to the darkness and brutality of crime, offers the reader hope and once again adds weight and argument to the question I found myself asking above.

If I was to have any criticism at all, and it is none levelled at the author, its is the American language. When things start from “the get-go” or someone is hiding “out back” rather than out the back, it becomes slightly grating and I find myself wanting to correct the character on his vocabulary! Probably a good example then really of how well the characters are written if that is my only gripe!

As someone who has a new found ambition to do something with their own writing, authors like Roger Ellory continue to be a huge inspiration. My project, The Bicycle Man, has been in part inspired by the author and his works of which I am unashamedly a huge fan, which is hopefully the greatest compliment that I can give right now.

I too am trying to write something about life, in general and the essence of truth, the power of what we believe we know to be fact but coping with the circumstance when we find out that everything we know is a lie - except I can only hope to have the success that he rightly deserves and will hopefully keep on getting.

But whatever you read, whether you write or not, if you have a favourite author, write about them, write a review on Amazon, give their books as a present to someone else, tell someone else about them. One thing I have found out in my very short journey so far, is that to be successful takes effort, a lot of effort and then a lot more effort on top of that. The authors you read, the authors you champion are gifts in themselves and they can only keep selling books if people buy them, even if you don't buy this one, have a look on Amazon and find out a bit more - or ask me and I'll let tell you all you need to know.

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