Without the constrictions of the short story format, where we’ve seen him in before, JJ Stoner becomes a far more complex character. Now we see him in his own territory. Although he professes to have given up being a hired killer, instead working as an investigator for the ‘hard man’, it doesn’t seem to have turned him into some kind of social worker.
As with the earlier short stories, it takes a few minutes to get used to Westworth’s unique writing style, but fortunately the opening passages of the book have more than enough going on to keep the reader interested. Once in, then you’re hooked, or you’ve put the book down because ‘it’s not really your kind of thing… all that gore and stuff’. But then after reading the two shorts, you didn’t really expect ‘once upon a time, on a lovely summer’s day…’, did you?
In this longer format, Stoner’s tangled and unconventional lifestyle can be explored in a more detailed manner, and the author certainly does this… but not without adding new uncertainties to every answer that he gives us. Every one of our hero’s acquaintances has some unusual take on life that leaves the reader to question as to whether they are really the good guys or the bad, depending on how they’ve been initially portrayed. I suppose this is also true of the central character himself, but we’ve already given him the benefit of the doubt… Haven’t we?
The novel takes the reader on a roller-coaster guided tour of the bizarre world of Stoner’s kind of people. Whether people like these actually exist in the real world matters not, because if they don’t, then the writer has made them real enough for the reader to believe. If they do, then the world that they inhabit would seem empty without them and that world, as described so well by the author, has just enough situations and locations in it for it to seem completely familiar… until you put the book down and step back out into your normal, comfortably boring, and thankfully safe life.
Once we’ve been led through this trail of evidence and unexpected occurrences, and have met people who may or may not prove to be allies of our protagonist, we find ourselves at what appears to be the book’s end game, but with even more uncertainty as to who is actually the hunter or the hunted? Who is the good guy and who is the bad? These are the questions we ask ourselves, but the answers may not be entirely as expected… and the reasons certainly won’t be clear cut.
Bring on the next book… please. This character could run and run; in fact he does… I could almost visualise the closing scenes of this book on the screen, and although not a pretty sight, it would certainly sell.