Reviews In The Machine : Shepherd Of The Black Sheep
This was a beautifully written book and pretty much from the start I was taken in by the description of the environment. I thought it was a brilliant decision to place the story onto this bleak, cold landscape as I felt it perfectly reflected the nature and mood of the narrative.
This book is a perfect example of why I need to rectify the blind spot that has largely existed in my reading habits when it comes to crime novels. It’s a genre I’ve always felt drawn to but for some reason don’t actually come to as often. I think one of the strengths of narratives of this type (and this book in particular) is how much the human condition can come through and how the depth of the characters is put so emotionally on display.
As a parent, I responded deeply to this story, the tragedy of a young child killed (Alice), her best friend (Paige) bearing witness and the main character of the book (Tom), left to care for his granddaughter, protect her from elements of the town that would do her harm as well as what he can to help her heal. It’s a situation that has great potential for conflict and it’s all used to perfection.
The emotional conquests against Paige seem to come on multiple fronts as, in addition to the expected trauma, she becomes of greater interest to Alice’s parents. For whatever reason, they have concluded that Paige knows more than she has been telling and will go to any lengths to get her cooperation. What I liked about this point was how, on one hand their behavior comes off as unreasonable and hostile, you also feel a touch of sympathy for them. They have lost a child, after all. This, I think is an essential element of all great fiction. You don’t necessarily have characters that are absolutely good and absolutely evil. All we have are characters doing the best they can to live through the struggles which have been thrust upon them.
And as the story progresses, the escalation of situations that Tom keeps getting pulled in to serves wonderfully to heighten the tension of the story. It reminded me a bit of Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan in how, despite all efforts to correct his situation, things just keep getting worse and worse.
And it all builds up to an ending that, while it isn’t something we haven’t seen before necessarily, Triana executes it in a way that is effective, without taking it so far over the top that it seems gimmicky.
If I had any criticism, it would be that while Tom himself is a deep and interesting character, early in the book there are a number of points where he reflects on his disdain for the world today. Of his lack of understanding of the younger generation and their technology and phones and so forth. It isn’t a point of view that I’m necessarily unsympathetic to, it’s just that it’s a narrative I’ve become more and more tired of seeing. It’s the kind of thing I can get pretty much every day on Facebook or Twitter and as it doesn’t really add anything to the plot of the book, I found it to be a bit distracting.
You could make the argument that this disdain for the modern world serves to further isolate Tom as a character from the rest of his life. But I think that the circumstances of the story already accomplish this effectively enough without having to use any kind of enhancing device.
Also, as we find out early, Paige is living with Tom because her parents passed away, leaving her in her grandfather’s care. This puts Tom in the awkward position of having to act as a parent, an older man trying to figure out the unsteady ground of raising a young girl. This in my opinion would be a more effective way of highlighting Tom’s sense of aloneness. It’s germane to the story, incredibly emotional and personal and doesn’t have quite so much the feel of pop-culture-speak.
And just putting all cards fairly on the table, there are a number of typos in this that were a bit glaring. That being said however, I didn’t feel like these took away from the impact of the story or the beauty of the prose. I never felt like turning away but they were there. I just think the story could have stood for another editing pass.
In all, it’s an incredibly rich and entertaining book, one I read multiple times. It’s a quick journey and if you’re looking for a vivid distraction, an emotional and human story, look not further than right here.
*originally posted at the Gingernuts Of Horror (http://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/book-review-shepherd-of-the-black-sheep-by-kristopher-triana)