Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Quiver: A Novel / by Peter Leonard
Tragedy strikes 16-year-old Luke McCall, son of NASCAR champion Owen McCall, when he accidentally kills his father in a hunting accident. Plunged into a deep despair from which his mother Kate fears he may never get out of, Luke finds his circumstances altered when he's kidnapped and held for ransom by some East Detroit criminals barely older than himself. The trio, headed by a sadistic crystal meth-head named Teddy Hicks, someone who'd actually had a run-in with Owen McCall some years earlier, may seem bumbling but they're definitely as ruthless as they are witless and aren't afraid to resort to torturous methods to get what they want. Together with his girlfriend Celeste, a runaway, and Dejuan, a car jacker, they succeed in abducting their target but still can't decide on what to do about a mysterious fourth member of their party who's been operating behind the scenes.
45-year-old Jack Curran has a problem staying out of trouble. OK, maybe not so much as before he convicted of fraud and sent to prison, but he still feels the pull of his old life of crime, a life he was actually good at. It was a better gig, anyway, than the pittance he makes working as a laborer during his probationary period. So when he reads about an old girlfriend, a wealthy old girlfriend, who's just lost her racecar-driving husband, Jack decides to take a little trip. Kate McCall is more concerned than surprise when Jack shows up, seemingly out of thin air, and is frankly at a loss about what to do. Still in the process of grieving over her dead husband and managing her emotionally damaged son, Kate tries to do what she thinks is right, choosing to believe Jack's story about his investment property in Arizona and his occupation as a realtor. Plus there's a lingering attraction which she feels to the man she loved before she ever loved her husband and before any of her current misery befell her.
Quiver has all of the essentials of a classic Elmore Leonard novel but lacks much of the personality. Peter Leonard, son of the aforementioned (truly one of America's under-the-radar literary legends), succeeds in grasping the attention of the reader with those same brief, succinct sequences his father has demonstrated so brilliantly over the decades. Yet he doesn't quite complete the circle. His characters, nuanced and memorable as some of them are, don't quite stand on their own the way so many of his father's have. This is a problem because it kind of contributes to the disjointed first half of the book. Characters like Teddy and Dejuan, both recognizable Detroit-types who true Leonard fans won't miss on, are perhaps more forced than they need to be and Kate's backstory, which includes a harrowing near-death experience as a part of her early life, doesn't quite make her into a believable heroine at the conclusion. It's a good read though, solidly paced and short enough to hold interest of true thriller fans up until the very last stand-off. (FIC LEONARD)