Two billiards players—one older and disabled, the other ambitious and in a slump—try to improve their game.
After some punks hustle young Henry at pool, his father teaches him everything he knows about how to work the table. Henry learns well, but his trip to Vegas turns disastrous when he bests the wrong guys and winds up with a mangled leg. More than 20 years later, he works at a poolroom and meets Jason, whose billiard skills seem to have vanished. While Jason focuses on helping a man whose son needs a $100,000 operation, Henry debates whether anyone else can play pool “in the zone.” In Quijote’s debut novel, the 21-year gap in time, near the book’s midpoint, divides two stories. The first follows Henry from age 14 to his recovery from his beating, and the second details Jason’s arrival at Maxie’s Billiard Emporium and the subsequent tourney. While the merging of the two stories works well, some of it disorients: Henry becomes a supporting character in the second half, and significant people, such as Moe, who helps the crippled man, disappear without explanation. Henry’s girlfriend, Jasmine, plays an important role in his life, but most female characters are mere objects of lust or blatant displays of vulnerability—and usually the resultant tears lead to sex. Henry’s “in-the-zone” technique gets adequate explanation, but we don’t learn why only Henry can achieve this state of being. The author hits the mark where he should; he regales with scenes of cue-stick war and saves the most impassioned bout until the end. And Quijote cleverly plots the story—some of those characters from the first half do make appearances later, and a subplot involving a woman trying to blackmail Jason leads to an uproarious late-night confrontation at a motel.
Tells two stories that sometimes compete with each other, but brilliant billiards battles make it worthwhile.
Walkley pits CIA agents against a maniacal Saudi prince intent on starting World War III in this debut thriller.
Delta Force operative Lee McCloud, aka Mac, finds himself in Mexico, trying to rescue two teenage girls kidnapped by a drug cartel. But things go from bad to worse when the villains don’t play by the rules. Framed for two murders he didn’t commit, Mac has two options: go to prison or go to work for a CIA black-op group run by the devious Wisebaum, who hacks into terrorists’ bank accounts and confiscates millions of dollars. However, there’s more going on than meets the eye; Saudi Prince Khalid is in possession of nuclear canisters, with which he hopes to alter world history. Khalid also dabbles in trafficking young women, and harvesting and selling human organs. When Wisebaum’s black-op team targets Khalid’s father, the action becomes even more intense. With so many interweaving subplots—kidnapped girls, Israeli undercover agents, nuclear weapons and a secret underwater hideout—it could be easy to lose track of what’s going on. But the author’s deft handling of the material ensures that doesn’t occur; subplots are introduced at the appropriate junctures and, by story’s end, all are accounted for and neatly concluded. Mac is portrayed as a rough and ready action-hero, yet his vulnerabilities will evoke empathy in readers. He finds a love interest in Tally, a hacker whose personality is just quirky enough to complement his own. All Walkley’s primary characters are fleshed out and realistic, with the exception of Wisebaum—a malicious, double-dealing, back-stabber of the worst ilk; the reader is left wondering about Wisebaum’s motivations behind such blatant treachery.
Despite this, Walkley’s beefy prose and rousing action sequences deliver a thriller to satisfy any adrenaline addict.
Tragedy turns into triumph in Carlson’s debut novel about a young woman who regains her self-confidence after multiple losses and years of dejection.
Before readers meet 28-year-old Jamie Shire, she has already hit rock bottom. Jobless, she drinks away her days on her best friend’s couch as she wallows in loneliness. Among Jamie’s troubles: Her mother died when she was a child, the only man she ever loved wouldn’t reciprocate, her unborn daughter died, and she continuously feels rejected by her father and brother. After a chance encounter with a wealthy woman at a coffee shop, Jamie accepts a live-in job researching philanthropic causes at Fallow Springs Estate. Reaching out to the house staff and eventually working with Darfur refugees afford Jamie some valuable context for her own pain; she’s able to gain confidence as she learns to stop fearing rejection and start pursuing her dreams. Throughout the novel, the author skillfully creates mood. In the beginning, when Jamie borders on depression, her emotional touchiness and oversensitivity will create an uneasy feeling in readers. But as Jamie slowly regains confidence, readers will also feel increasingly optimistic. Alongside the main character’s emotional struggle is the struggle faced by Darfur refugees, although this plotline doesn’t advance too far; yet details from Jamie’s trip to the refugee camp in Chad—the types of beer served at the aid workers’ bar or a depiction of a young refugee sitting blank-faced and tied to a pole because he might run away—effectively transport readers to faraway places. Jamie’s story will interest readers, but, with a weak ending, the story leaves many unanswered questions. Who is Jamie’s wealthy employer? Does Jamie’s work in Chad help anyone but herself? And what of the conflict Jamie feels between herself and the refugees, between the haves and the have-nots?
With so many minor questions left unanswered, Carlson’s captivating novel proves to be more about the journey than the destination.