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My entire professional career has been spent prying secrets out of the accused. (vii)
Petey Sanchez was a troubled human being, a stewpot of mental, emotional, and psychological problems manifested in the body of a wild-eyed seventeen-year-old, who cursed and made screeching bird noises as he rode around town on a lime green spider bike with fluorescent pink streamers flying out from the handlebars. (2)
For those who decry the death penalty and believe that all human life is sacred, allow me to introduce you to Richard Terrance Buchanan Junior, who for two decades was arguably the most feared man in Akron, Ohio. (108)
So begin the first and second parts of the new novel Favorite Sons by Robin Yocum. Solid and promising prose here, without a doubt, and from a first-time novelist at that. I'm looking forward to a long and prosperous career for Yocum in years to come. His fledgling effort feels like a mash-up of Stand By Me and a John Grisham novel, so for you legal/crime drama and psychological thriller fans, he's a writer to watch.
To sum up: Favorite Sons is both a psychological exploration of how one split-second decision in 1971 rural Ohio transforms the adult lives of local prosecutor and soon-to-be Ohio State Attorney General Hutchinson Van Buren and three of his boyhood pals, and a present-day mystery/crime drama linked to a thirty-year-old crime.
My opinion: Such an ability to create atmosphere Robin Yocum displays. The first part of this novel, set in rural Crystalton, Ohio, completely transported me back to my own childhood, although I lived far from the Midwest. And Yocum also has a gift for inhabiting an early-teen sensibility that - wherever and whenever you grew up - will feel entirely, viscerally familiar. Beautiful work here on that score, and hence my earlier allusion to Stephen King's stellar novella The Body, turned modern classic movie, Stand By Me.
To see what I mean about Yocum's ability to bring a reader right back in time and to find out what I thought of the second part of Favorite Sons just keep reading. You'll find my Friday 56 there too...
Or, if you're ready to enjoy a few more 'Book Beginnings' and 'Friday 56' peeks at at other readers' current books, go ahead and hop to A Few More Pages and Freda's Voice.
So, perhaps a brief quote or two from page 56 will offer support for my earlier claims, as it reveals Yocum's first-timer status, but also some of his strengths. WARNING: BIT OF A SPOILER HERE, but it's early on, so you decide. SPOILER-shy? Hop down after this passage to see my overall assessment of Favorite Sons.
Here, our protagonist, the 15-year-old Hutch, encounters his friend Deak's Uncle Jack in the local market, as townspeople discuss the violent death of Petey Sanchez:
"I'll tell you what happened. That simple kid crossed the wrong person." I looked up and Jack's good eye was honed in on me. It gave me chills. "That's all there was to this, I guarantee it. Petey Sanchez went up to the wrong person and started making bird sounds or got up in their grill, and that was all it took." He winked at me with his one good eye. "What do you think, Mr. Van Buren?"I hope you will agree that the dialogue moves along believably here, and that Yocum's skill at weaving scene-setting description and credible first-person perspective into a taut narrative is evident as well.
I shook my head. "I don't really have an opinion."
"Really? Well, you'd be the only one in town." He turned back to Jewel and Denny. "Someone didn't want to put up with any more of that kid's bullshit, and they popped him - simple as that."
I thought my knees were going to buckle. Jack Vukovich was spouting off in his usual know-all blather and he didn't know how eerily on target he was. They were still speculating when I left. It seemed that most people in town shared Jack's opinion, believing that Petey was somehow responsible for his own murder.
I dribbled to where Second Street came to a dead end at the high school parking lot and cut behind the school to the courts that overlooked the sand quarry. The sky was clear and the smoke from the electric plant drifted to the east, dissipating before it reached the West Virginia hills. I set my water jug on one of the green wooden benches along the side of the court and began shooting. It was only fifteen minutes before I saw Deak walking up the gravel road between the courts and the quarry. (56)
On the other hand, this feels like a book that begins two times. Just when you're entirely invested in Adrian, Deak, Pepper, and Hutch - our title quartet - and how they're going to survive the repercussions of the violent act at the center of this story, it's stop and try again. Because in part two, we leap thirty years into the future and our protagonist Hutch seems like a different, and not particularly likable, person. Granted, we're to understand that he's become the shallow workaholic he is - in part - due to the secret he's been carrying since childhood. But Hutch's devolution into a less sympathetic character than he was as a teen frustrated me, especially because we didn't go on that transformative journey with him - we simply see its results. And this last section is more plot- than character or atmosphere- driven: We follow Hutch as he's blackmailed by a recently released convict and inveterate child molester and then attempts to track down his old childhood pals so that they can unite in a response to the extortionist. Page-turning? Sure. As satisfying as Part One? Well, not for this reader, but if you're the mystery-reading type, you might find it equally fulfilling.
Overall, I'd say that if you're already a fan of this genre, you should give it a try: It's certainly better than the most recent Preston & Child I reviewed, and better than many of its kind.
And, again, I'm hoping that with this fledgling effort under his belt, Yocum will continue to write in this genre, producing increasingly impressive novels. I know I'll be picking up his next one.
Now why not relax at the end of a long week by sampling a few more "Book Beginnings" and 'Friday 56' peeks at your next great reads?
Action: I'll be sharing a revised version of this review on Goodreads & Amazon.com.
And don't forget our Poem In Your Post Blog Hop this weekend: Post a poem, link it here, and spread the language love...