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Interesting Characters, Ignoring the Cliche,
This review is from: Final Price (A Paul Chang Mystery) (Paperback)
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Reading the blurb for Final Price, I was struck by two things. Firstly, I thought that this book would focus predominantly on a man slowly going insane until he snaps, and then the ensuing police investigation. I was wrong. Instead, Final Price begins after the antagonist, Shamus Ryan, has already snapped; the narrative flits between the perspectives of Ryan and his pursuers, but does still provide the psychological exploration of Ryan's motives that I desired. The second thing I noticed was just how clichéd the investigators sounded - any character description that includes the words detective and neurotic instantly sets alarm bells ringing. And yes, the detective characters are largely clichéd - Chang, the out of place, fiery, big-time-cop-now-working-in-a-smaller town, has been seen a million times, and Nelson Rogers, the neurotic cop coming off a breakdown, is about as frequent too. However, the portrayal of these personality points by the author does allow the cliché to be largely overlooked.
Final Price is told in a series of short chapters, rapidly flitting between Chang, the main protagonist, and Shamus Ryan, the main antagonist, as their lead. This not only serves to move the plot forward at a brisk pace (admittedly helped by the large number of murders that spatter the narrative) but also to allow both characters' backstories to be explored and psyches to be examined. For me in a book, plot and character development are equally important, and it is the mark of a skilled writer to be able to do both at the same time. Thankfully, J. Smith is a skilled writer. Whether it's whilst investigating a crime scene, or discussing things with his partner/friend, Chang's personality is constantly being built upon and developed. Equally for Ryan, whether conducting a car deal or breaking into a house (or something altogether more grisly), his motives and state of mind are being expanded upon and examined.
Where the author really excels, however, is in not patronising the reader. It is a pitfall of far too many thriller writers to tell their audience what to think. J Gregory Smith, in contrast, presents the facts and viewpoints to the reader, and leaves them to deduce the links. It is a real credit to the author that this never seems tiresome or unnecessary, as well as demonstrating his confidence in the strength of his characters and their portrayal. And this confidence isn't misplaced - it's rare that I actually find myself rooting for the heroes in a novel (what can I say, I find bad guys more interesting), but in Final Price the author does manage to inject an urgency into proceedings, particularly toward the book's conclusion.
In concluding, this is a novel of clichéd characters - aside from Chang's Asian heritage and its effects - that is still very enjoyable. By no means has J Gregory Smith rewritten the rulebook on this one, but he has introduced three interesting characters backed by a well-paced fast moving plot that adds together to produce a great read. In choosing to mainstream publish Final Price, Amazon Encore have given their stamp of approval to Smith's work, and I for one agree with their decision. This is a worthwhile read, with interesting characters. And I have since ordered its sequel.