Wrecker was a foray outside my usual reading genre, but I decided to give it a go based on the reviews and the striking cover.
The writing style was fluid and the word choice economical. This made it easy to get straight into the story. The principle characters, Steve and Jane, were well sketched (Jane in particular in the early stages of the book). Their dialogue was naturalistic and revealed heaps about their personalities.
Steve came across as self-absorbed and rather loathsome, which was key to some of the events that take place later on in the story. He's also something of an unconscionable opportunist, which is why he sees no problem employing handyman Rob Manteo for a pittance after running into him in a store. Not only does he have no issue with underpaying the guy, but he leaves this total stranger, clearly a steroid abuser, alone with his wife and child.
Jane is the character easiest to sympathize with. She shows some empathy for Manteo and heroic levels of self-restraint when she starts to receive unwanted information about her husband.
Manteo is also easy to empathize with early on, but this changed for me towards the end of the book.
The opening 60% of Wrecker was extremely well-written. Yes, there were some errors dotted around (mostly word omissions rather than actual typos), but never enough to get in the way of the story. These early scenes were subtly drawn and told from different POVs (principally Jane and Steve, but later Rockingham, a cop with rather an unhealthy interest in Manteo).
What I liked most of all about the first half of the book was the mystery. Events (seemingly unrelated) begin to unfold, but there is just enough information for the reader to hypothesize. Even though I'd worked out much of the central mystery early on, it was never definite in my mind (just extremely likely). It was utterly engaging following the characters as they tried to piece together what was going on. Steve's rapid decline was excruciating at times; it would have been more so had he been likable.
In these scenes, Conifer showed a mastery of his material. I was hooked from the start and already composing a review in which I extolled his virtues as an author. This guy can write, and write well.
The last 40% of the book took a slight downturn, as far as I'm concerned. It shifted from the earlier subtlety to a cliched and, at times, unbelievable pastiche of Hollywood thrillers. To a large extent, the characters remained consistent, but the action starts to become a bit over-the-top. The build towards the climactic ending was perhaps a little too drawn out and had me feeling impatient.
Probably the weakest moment, for me, was when the principle antagonist explains everything that's happened, along with motives, in what is virtually an info dump disguised as a conversation. Not only that, but the information was somewhat redundant as the reader should have already worked much of this out at that point. I felt Conifer had done a great job of leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, but then he either doubted the reader's ability to follow it, or he doubted his own ability to have communicated the key elements of the story effectively. The editor in me wanted to bash him over the head with my Kindle and shout "Cut! Cut! Cut!". One slip, that's all it took, and the hard work of the first 60% was undermined.
The only other gripe I have is with the abrupt ending. I guess, after all that had happened, I wanted the opportunity to unwind with the characters. That's an indication that so much worked with this book.
Character identification was one of the great strengths of Wrecker. Use of POV was excellent throughout. Whenever there is a change of POV, Conifer marks it clearly with a scene break. He builds tension very well by flipping between characters in this way, and also uses shorter POV sequences to pick up pace.
In some ways, the structure of Wrecker reminded me of The Butcher's Boy (M.R. Mathias), although Wrecker is subtler (at first) and lacks the terror of Butcher's.
Overall it was an enjoyable read that started brilliantly, but fell away a little later on. The writing is good, but there were a few too many errors (more in the second half). Nothing major, but the accumulation of missed words did start to detract towards the end.
Wrecker has shown me enough to realize that Dave Conifer is an excellent writer. Anyone who can hook me early on and get me to identify with their characters has already succeeded in the primary tasks of an author. The only reason I can't give this the five stars I thought it deserved early on is the change that occurs just past the midway point. Once the mystery is solved and the consequences start to play out, it devolves into a slightly hackneyed formula that does not fully showcase the author's true strengths, which were on display very effectively at the beginning.
Writing style: 9/10