Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Father and Son / John Barlow

Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Genre: Crime / Thriller

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

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John Barlow was born in the UK but now lives in Galicia. He left school to become a musician, then studied English Literature at Cambridge University, followed by a PhD at Hull.

John, as well as writing novels under his own name, is a ghost writer, journalist and translator. He has written a number of novels and novellas. You can learn more about John on his website.


Roberto Swales is found murdered, tortured then beaten to death, a champagne cork deliberately left at the scene. John Ray, son of local crime boss Tony Ray, is asked to investigate the crime. However, he’s not the only one that wants to know who killed Swales. And why.


This is a solid, well written story which I enjoyed reading. Even though it is the second in a series (the LS9 series about the Ray family) it works well as a stand-alone and it did not matter reading out of order.

The characters are strong and well-drawn. John Ray, the protagonist, describes himself as the white sheep of the family. Cambridge University educated, the last thing he wants to do is join the family business on the wrong side of the law. In fact he’s spent the last couple of years legitimising it, but he can’t help but be drawn back in. There’s Den, his ex-girlfriend detective sergeant who can’t seem to keep away from John despite the risks to her career. Flame-haired Jeanette, the strong willed investigative reporter who’s looking into the terrorist attack, and Baron, the obsessive police inspector investigating the murders, among others.

There’s more than a tinge of melancholy colouring the tale. John’s father is ageing, in a home, and he barely communicates. The world has moved on, others have taken over his empire. John himself struggles with his association with the criminal world. And a terror attack which happened years ago, in which a fourteen day old baby was killed, that the story and characters revolve around.

Through the first half of Father and Son, the author builds a series of story arcs, starting with Roberto’s gruesome murder. John stumbles through, trying to find out who killed his old friend, but finding himself more and more implicated. There’s history between him and Baron too, which doesn’t help his cause. In the latter section the author closes the arcs down one by one and pulls a decent surprise out. The conclusion is fitting.

One point of interest about the style of writing, the narrative occurs in third person, present tense which is unusual. Present tense can be employed to create urgency and speed in the narrative. But in this instance when shifts into past tense occurred during periods of reflection or flashbacks the result was slightly jarring. Did it undermine the book? Maybe a little.

Here’s an example:

But he wishes he wasn’t here. Roberto wouldn’t have wanted this. John realizes that now. Rob would have wanted a booze-up down at the Park Lane, reminiscing about the old days, cigars, bottles of brandy, laughs all round. He’d have wanted to play the part even in death. Because that’s how he died, trapped in a life he couldn’t escape, playing a part he didn’t want.

Nothing technically wrong with the sentence and it’s good writing but perhaps overall I sometimes spent time dealing with the flips in tense rather than concentrating on the story.

However, that was a minor aspect. Father and Son was compelling, I found myself keen to plough through the story and reach the conclusion. I’d certainly read John Barlow’s work again.


Some adult scenes.

Format/Typo Issues:

A couple of minor technical faults.

Rating: **** Four Stars

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