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Slightly disjointed, slow paced novel with some good set pieces
on 3 January 2014
'The Sound of Things Falling' is narrated by Antonio, a law professor whose life is changed dramatically when he is seriously injured in a street shooting that leaves Ricardo, an acquaintance of his, dead. Some years later, Antonio tries to piece together the mysteries surrounding Ricardo and the events leading up to his death. Was his shooting related to the cassette tape that brought him to tears just minutes before he was killed? So far, so promising-sounding-thriller. There's a nice mystery around the tape and Ricardo himself; we get a few pieces of tantalising information early on that keep us reading through to the denouement. There are also some interesting bits of Colombian history mixed in, particularly around the rise of drug smuggling. Antonio is scarred by the violent past of his city whilst he was growing up, and makes dark references throughout to that, but there is never much explanation of what the conflict was about or specifically how it affected residents of Bogota, which makes it harder for readers unfamiliar with the country's history to really connect with this aspect of the story.
If my synopsis above is rather hard to pin down, that's because it's not an easy story to summarise. It's not the thriller/crime type novel the blurb might suggest. I found it rather disjointed. The central mystery around Ricardo's past isn't quite a strong enough theme to keep the whole thing together, and the pacing varies from adequate to slow. Antonio isn't a particularly easy character to like - I didn't entirely dislike him, but some of his behaviour isn't endearing and in a story where he is the main unifying factor it would make it more readable if he was more charismatic. In some ways I found him a bit bland and difficult to fully understand. He didn't really stand out to me as a strong character in his own right - the murdered Ricardo has more presence. The references to the difficult times he'd had during the conflict have the potential to give him more depth, but because they never go beyond references, this ends up feeling like another important aspect of the character that we haven't really seen or understood.
There are some very strong sections within the narrative, for example when Antonio finally hears the mystery tape, and the narration of the military display attended by Ricardo's father. These are really well written. The writing style in the rest of the book is all right, but it all just moves too slowly for me. I found the eventual conclusion of the novel unsatisfying, and I was annoyed with how things developed with Ricardo in the latter part of the book - I can't really say more without spoiling it, but I felt that the route the author took was clichéd, unnecessary and undermined the power of the story to be told.
I couldn't really find this an enjoyable book, although the writing is generally good and in parts shows flashes of brilliance. It's rather like a necklace with a few very beautiful pearls tied together with a lot grubby string in between. I didn't rush to read it and I didn't feel any sorrow when I finished. One thing I would warn readers about is not, under any circumstances, to read this on an aeroplane or before a flight. There is a strong theme of plane crashes, including a chilling depiction of one, and so unless you have nerves of steel, leave this at home when you fly. The novel would be most enjoyed by people who like slower paced, thoughtful books. Lovers of crime fiction and thrillers should be aware that this book doesn't really fall into that genre. Overall I'm ambivalent about the story although it isn't written badly, and it's hard to know who to recommend it to - other than advising frequent fliers to steer clear.