Frank Westworth has a gift for anfractuous prose, and this sixth JJ Stoner short story is no exception, even given the deceptively straightforward plot device – someone’s out to get JJ Stoner. The one thing you need to know about JJ Stoner’s world is that nothing is ever that simple. There is deceit aplenty from less-than-civil servants, sly deception and disregard from the supposed good guys, and a certain amount of nicely written (and efficiently dispensed) violence.
You certainly need to keep your wits about you with this author’s writing, as you follow serpentine sentences and the varied interplay of descriptions and conversations. The reward is, ultimately, an engaging and thought-provoking read.
Six Strings, like the other Stoner stories, is a stand-alone piece of fiction. There are characters who reoccur in other JJ Stoner stories and novels; some welcome, others not so much, but you do not get the feeling of having missed some vital relationship during this story.
Westworth’s protagonist, JJ Stoner might at first glance seem to simply be just another darkly drawn antihero: musician, motorcyclist and murderer, as the byline runs. Indeed, there are a literary tranche of troubled man as misunderstood hero types out there. And, in another author’s hands, JJ Stoner might be framed within a run of the mill black and white morality play, where the lines between right and wrong are crisply defined and sharply telegraphed.
This is not the case, in Westworth’s writing. There are no authorial judgments to be discerned about JJ Stoner’s profession, or his character and actions. What there is, is a stark acceptance that there are rarely just two sides to a situation. Rather the reality is often a whole tangled mess of grey lines that get very dark and very blurred, very quickly.
That tendency, not to lead the reader by the hand shows, to this reader at least, a real deftness of characterisation. And Westworth is proving, story by story, to be an assured exponent of this style.
I have kept an eye on JJ Stoner’s adventures for a while now (but not too closely you understand, it wouldn’t do to get too near, in case of stray bullets!), and there are some sections of this story that make you mutter ‘just get on with it!’ The writing occasionally loses focus and turns to the navel-gazing variety, but those incidences are rare, and are minor grumbles when the whole story is considered.
The author gives us no heavy-handed literary winks and nods, as to where we are supposed to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at what takes place. Everything that occurs is well outlined and deftly described, but we are left to make up our own minds as to the rights and wrongs of any situation.
So, does our (anti) hero survive unscathed to kill / ride / play another day? Hit the buy button, open your Kindle and spend an enjoyable hour or so, finding out!
Reviewed by Julieanna
Six Strings by Frank Westworth is available as an ebook