Saturday, July 16, 2011

'A Memory of Grief' Takes You on the Hero's Journey

Review: A MEMORY OF GRIEF (Briona Glen Publishing 2011)
Author: Dale T Phillips

Zachary Taylor (yes, just like the president) is an ex-con living in Miami. The novel A MEMORY OF GRIEF opens with Zack sitting in a bar after a fight, not feeling so hot, even though he won. Zack has demons. He's an angry man. He's haunted by his brother's death, which he feels is his fault. He's spent his life drifting aimlessly.

Now he's sitting in a bar, feeling like sh*t. Then something happens. Something has to happen, right? :) A kid gives him a letter from his best friend Ben's ex-wife, which says that Ben, his best friend in the world, has committed suicide. Shot himself in the head.

Zack ain't buying this for a New York minute. Even though he's in Miami. And he has to go to Maine to prove otherwise. And visit the Carolinas on the way.

The letter moves Zack into action. He takes what's known as "the hero's journey."

Zack is convinced someone killed his friend and his mission is to find out who did it and avenge his friend's death. To do this, he must go up to Maine, where his friend lived.

The trip to Carolina is to see the friend's ex-wife and see just WTF is up with her, anyway. Turns out, she's living in an abusive relationship with a redneck so-and-so, or words to that effect. He ends up being sympathetic to her plight and swears that when he figures out what really happened to Ben, he's going to come back and help her out.

So, now he has TWO missions! In two different parts of the eastern seaboard. Is this guy a saint or what?

Well, he is a drifter, so ... Carolina to Maine and back. No biggie, right? :)

When Zack gets to Maine, he gets right to work. Thing is, everywhere he goes, people basically tell him to go pound sand. Or words to that effect.

This gets a bit frustrating for Zack. And could stall the plot, if it were left in less capable hands. Fortunately, as I've previously mentioned, Zack's a fighter. And despite his best efforts to avoid it, he ends up fighting one particular alleged kung fu master who isn't quite as invincible as he or his groupies think he is. The fight scenes in this book are written with a level of detail that feel almost like the slow motion scenes from a Sam Peckinpah movie, without the bullets and the blood. Although that part will come later. During the big climax. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

There are also great scenes depicted between Zack and the local cops. Two cops, of course. Good cop, bad cop. The usual duo, but without relying on cliches or copying another author's style. Dale T Phillips has a distinctive voice, no question. And it's distinctively hardboiled, suspenseful and action packed.

Zack runs across a number of potential suspects. People who won't cooperate with him and insist upon fighting him to varying degrees. This is especially true in one place, in particular, which I won't reveal for risk of spoilers.

But not everyone is unfriendly to Zack for he finds possible love in the form of Allison, a nurse at the local hospital, a place where he seems to end up after his frequent encounters with people who'd rather he go away. For Zack is basically a really nice guy, who'd rather not fight, but keeps getting resistance wherever he tries to find out what happened to Ben. For a fighter, he's got a sense of humor, and he even quotes Coleridge at one point. So, he's not exactly you're run of the mill action-adventure hero.

Phillips writes with well-crafted prose that paints a vivid picture of small town Maine, as well as the natural beauty of its forests and coastline.

And just so you know, the book is also realistic about the waiting. In order to learn the truth, Zack must patiently conduct surveillance day-after-day. However, if the routine of hiding in the bushes and peering through binoculars takes on a repetitious quality, it also creates a great deal of suspense. You know something will happen. It's just a matter of what it will be, when it will take place and how it will turn out for Zack.

And when Zack gets the payoff from those days of surveillance, there's this awesome "Aha!" moment. Even so, questions remain. Will anger get the best of Zack? Will he ultimately prevail? Will he get the girl? How will the big, bloody Sam Peckinpah climax turn out? And what about that gal in the Carolinas?

There's only one way to know. Read the book. Which I highly recommend you do. :)

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