Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Damn You, Andrew Pyper! (A Review)

I've got less than 30 pages left to read in Andrew Pyper's new novel The Guardians, and all I can keep muttering under my breath is:  "Damn you, Andrew Pyper!"

I've had to fight to put the novel down because I want to savour this burning feeling to drop everything else and just finish the novel.

I've been a fan of Pyper's writing since I picked up his first novel, Lost Girls, and have been impressed with each book even more since then. I wasn't sure he could pull off a more suspenseful thriller with as much depth as The Killing Circle, but it looks like he has. Like the storyline in one of his novels, he pulls the unexpected out of his hat in such a satisfying way.

So, why, then, am I muttering curses at the man?

Perhaps because The Guardians is a novel I'm enjoying on so many levels.

First, the novel is set in small-town Ontario, and is about three forty-something men, all ex-players of the hometown hockey team "The Guardians" who come together after the death of a dear friend they haven't seen in years. Having grown up in a small town in Northern Ontario (and one in which hockey was central - three NHL players were born out of Levack, Ontario when I was growing up, one of whom I played alongside in my youth) I recognize how perfectly Pyper has nailed this element of the novel. The town itself is like a character I can quickly and easily relate to.

Of course, the fact that I started reading it last week when I was back in my home town for a funeral brought the setting of the novel home that much better for me. Pyper describes characters, settings and situations in a small town so perfectly that I, had I not actually been back in my small home town, his novel would have propelled me there.

He also beautifully nails the relationship between men, the unspoken thoughts, the carefully script of "maleness" that dominates and ties the four friends together through a critically important secret all four of them have sworn themselves to which involves the Thurman house, an old, abandoned house that stands across from the bedroom of Ben, one of the friends.  Of course, the secret is what brings the three surviving friends together when Ben, the one who stayed behind, to continue to watch the house, to be the remaining guardian of its evil secrets, takes his own life.

The Guardians wonderfully parallels Stephen King's It in this manner of a single friend staying behind to keep an eye on the evil that dwells in their small home town. And like the King novel, which is one of my favourites, Pyper's novel jumps back and forth between the present, where the friends come together on their old stomping grounds, and the past, where the secrets the four friends have all kept are slowly unravelled and revealed to the reader.

The main character and narrator, Trevor, who was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's disease is perhaps the walking, living and breathing parallel to The Thurman House, the creepy "haunted house" that is central to the story's plots and secrets. Choosing a life of shallow rewards and relationships, he is ultimately alone and soliatary, just like the house that has stood abandoned and neglected for so many years. Trevor also represents much of the speculation many people have of moments lost, decisions made in haste and wondering what "might have been" had he done things just a little differently.

Pyper unravels the tale with a masterful tightening of tension, one in which the shadows begin to creep, ever so slowly across the ground, making you do a double take to wonder if what you just thought you saw was really there. He also addresses the "don't go into that haunted house" element wonderfully so that each time the boys and men enter the house, you partially wonder why they would do so, but can empathize with what draws them forward.

Of course, the main reason I'm cursing Pyper isn't because of his ingenius storytelling skills, his Norman Rockwell-like capturing of small-town Ontario, nor his masterful tightening of suspense. But because this past long weekend I had been hoping to spend a bit of time working on a couple of my own writing projects. But thinking about Pyper's novel and the unresolved bits that were begging me to return to the novel every time I put it down, the way the Thurman house kept drawing the four friends back to it, messed up those plans of getting my own writing done.

So to sum this review up, I say:  "Damn you, Andrew Pyper! You've done it again! Nice job!"


steph said...

I know this feeling! No matter what you didn't get done, this is one of the best experiences there is for a book lover. I usually curse because I'm jealous of the author.

Mark Leslie said...

LOL, Steph - alright, you got me; I'm also jealous of Pyper's talent! :)

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry - I may have a different outlook on life and fiction in general but I HATED the Killing Circle. I end up flicking over the last few pages to get it over with.
I wont be reading any more of Andrew Pypers books

Mark Leslie said...

Anon -- To roughly translate a french saying: "To each his own."

I'm sure there is an author or two whose work you adore. We are blessed with such marvelous choice in what we, as readers, can consume.

Different perspectives and the way we each react to various books and other cultural experiences help provide the unique spice of life.