Out Of Bounds is an interesting interpretation of a crime-thriller standard from a new author. Take an ordinary joe, muddle him up in something seriously grim, set the dogs on him and watch the innocent guy try to thrash his way free from an ever-tightening noose, beset by bad guys and the long arm of the law alike.
Give the unwilling hero something to fight for – in this case a loving wife and two young daughters who may pay the ultimate price for his moment of weakness. Take away everyone he can trust and make sure all his workmates, friends and associates could be complicit in the conspiracy. Set a pugnacious but honest and even-handed cop on his trail. Scare him witless with a series of encounters with a seriously tough hombre, an enforcer for a drug cartel, the kinda guy whose knife never takes ‘no’ for an answer and from whom you really shouldn’t ever, never, not even when threatened with redundancy, poverty and domestic strife, accept $20,000 in cash. Then watch the rabbit run and see if he can twist out of the snare…
All this is familiar territory but author Simon Duke introduces some interesting twists to the constantly evolving plot, swapping back and forth between the investigating cop and a first-person perspective of the fall guy who is desperately fighting for everything he holds dear. He turns out to be a tougher character than first appearances suggest. Initially Kyle-the-patsy is a bit of a whiner, complaining about his long hours, and soppily doting on his perfecto familio, harking back to his days in psychotherapy for anxiety attacks as a teenager. As the situation goes from awful to catastrophic, and he endures emotional angst, physical violence and cold-blooded killings at first hand, so Kyle discovers hidden resources, a tougher inner self. There’s a particularly compelling scene where he digs deep to convince himself to man up, to reach for the next threshold, to push himself past his previous limits.
Out Of Bounds is a first novel and it’s self-published. It’s better presented than many similar books but could have been improved by a professional edit, with tweaks to the occasionally odd style of dialogue. There were also a few sections where the narrative stopped flowing and felt somewhat stilted; big chunks of exposition and less-than-snappy dialogue to wade through. The female characters don’t do too well, either: the woman-under-threat felt like a plot device more than a person and was wonderfully good at stupidly putting herself and her kids at risk. She also switched from shrill squawking to devoted loving in a single sentence: from yelling to smooching in an instant. She, and a couple of the DEA / FBI guys, felt like characters straight from central casting.
However, if you can cope with an occasional clunky moment then you’ll be rewarded with several deft plot twists (especially on the ‘who can you trust?’ theme), and a truly wince-inducing finale where the author really puts poor old Kyle through the wringer. The ending was all the more rewarding for being unexpected – and pretty brave – in its outcome.
Simon Duke has real potential as a writer: this is a neat plot packed with ongoing action and a strong narrative thread. Out Of Bounds gives us glimmers of what the author can do: f’rinstance, on a midnight drive, the hero starts seeing the tail-lights of cars on the freeway as the red, glaring eyes of the demons that beset him. Powerful stuff. Hopefully Duke will develop more of this kind of style in his next novel.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Out Of Bounds by Simon Duke is available at Amazon in paperback