Alex Rourke
Created by John Rickards

Some lambs really should be silenced.

Alex Rourke, a damaged former FBI interrogation expert turned Boston private eye, mades his debut in the 2003 novel Winters End, in which he's hired to help the police in crack a murder suspect in the dark New England town where he grew up.

The problem I had with the novel is that it I felt it suffered from trying (and often, trying too hard) to be too many things at once ­ a private eye tale, a ghost story, a police procedural and a serial killer novel. Some of these, such as the entire private eye angle, seem to be there merely to fill pages and are quickly discarded, while others are never quite fully or properly utilized, but far worse, in the midst of all this genre cut-and-paste, is that we never get a clear picture of its central protagonist, whose character fails to ever quite gel. By evoking those bleak eerie woodland setting of New England, and lacing the story with numerous, possibly supernatural incidents, Rickards seems to be deliberately conjuring up comparisons between himself and Stephen King or possibly John Connolly, but it lacks King's (or Connolly's) deft gift for characterization.

Similarly, the psychological cat-and-mouse game of wits that so much energy is spent developing between Alex and the suitably creepy suspect falls flat, a far cry from Agent Clarice/ Hannibal Lechter/Silence of the Lambs-type conflict that it seems so clearly modelled upon. So what we're left with is an atmospheric mumble jumble with a few clever touches that ultimately tries too to be too many things to too many readers, spending far too much time on mood and not enough on character development.

And the use of first person present tense, always a risky trick, comes closer to pretension than captivation this time out,

But what do I know? A lot of people apparently loved the book, or at least enough of them for Rickards, a freelance journalist living in England, to write a second, The Touch of Ghosts, currently only available in the UK. That one's set in Vermont, and there's already talk of a third novel, to be set near Boston.



Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Polyester Man for the nudge.

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