Monday, August 17, 2009

Review of Stop Me by Richard Jay Parker, Allison and Busby (2009)

howdy doody
on vacation
slim attractive dreadlocked babe with a fun sticky-out bellybutton, likes rabbit fur
forward this email to ten friends

each of those friends must forward to ten friends

maybe one of those friends of friends of friends will be one of my friends

if this email ends up in my inbox within a week I wont slit the bitches throat

can you afford not to send this on to ten friends?

So starts Richard Jay Parker’s first novel, Stop Me.

Leo Sharpe has received this and similar such emails from the supposed Vacation Killer in his inbox and has ignored them as spam. Only after each email a young woman’s jaw bone is sent to the local police force. Then Laura, his recently married wife, fails to return from the bathroom in their local pub. No amount of searching can locate her and a few hours later an email referring to her is sent out into the ether. Laura’s employers put up a ransom of 50,000 pounds for their son to then disappear and his jaw bone to be sent to the police. But Laura has disappeared without a trace. Initially a prime suspect in her abduction, Leo’s life slowly unravels, losing his job, becoming addicted to sleeping tablets, and retreating into a loner, communicating via the internet with the man who claims to be the Vacation Killer but who the police have dismissed as a crank. At the bottom of a pit of despair he decides he needs to discover what happened to Laura, to find out if she’s still alive, and he sets off to confront his demons.

Stop Me is relatively straightforward story, simply but competently told. This is both its strength and its weakness. The strength is it's a relatively easy read, well structured and paced, and adequately plotted. In some ways it felt like a one-off television drama fleshed out into a novel. The weakness is that story-telling lacks any real prose and for me, at least, it didn’t incite any deeper thinking about the nature of people and society, particularly about disappearances and abduction. The story essentially focuses on Leo and is quite reflexive, exploring his thoughts and how he comes to terms with his wife’s disappearance and his journey to discover her fate. This psychological exploration I found was mostly surface with only minor glimpses of any real emotional depth. I think my own ambivalence to Leo is that he’s essentially a weak character and I found it hard to warm to his task because the reader is never introduced to Laura. It's quite difficult to care about the fate of someone who’s a blank slate. I don’t usually comment on the cover, but it does little for me and especially the orange and red text, nor does the title. I think I would have gone for 'The Vacation Killer', but I appreciate that’s a subjective choice.

Overall, a competent enough first novel that has small screen potential.

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