Most of the reviews I've read on this book read like a broken record..."I've waited so long for Conroy to write a new book", "I so wanted to love it and I didn't" or "It didn't live up to my expectations". And these are the reviews from longtime Conroy fans. Yet, even with all of this, most reviewers admit that even a "not great" Conroy book is far better than most of what else is out there. So will my review read like these broken records?...no. But I will say that somewhere along the way, when Conroy was walking "south of Broad", he turned left when he should have turned right and what we're left with is the problem most of the reviewers are writing about.
The book is divided into five parts. While reading the first part, I emailed a friend of mine telling her that I was 100 pages into South of Broad and loving every word I was reading. So, at this point, I couldn't understand all of the so-so reviews. Then I got to Part 2 and I started to understand. Part 3 justified these so-so feelings. Thank goodness for Part 4 and Part 5....otherwise this review might have been heading south all on its own.
It all begins on Bloomsday, June 16, 1969, when, as an upcoming high school senior, Leopold Bloom King meets eight people who will change his life forever. All in one day, his future will be set out before him as it is these eight people who will become his lifelong friends. For those of you who don't know the significance of Bloomsday, it refers to James Joyce's novel Ulysses where all the events take place on the same day, June 16, 1904, in Dublin and, the main character in Joyce's novel happens to be named Leopold Bloom. So it almost makes sense that our Leopold Bloom King will have events occur all on the same day that will shape his life as well. Just in case you're wondering, Leo's mother is also a Joycean scholar and lives and breathes everything James Joyce.
So begins our journey into Leo King's life (better known to his friends as The Toad). As I mentioned before, the book is divided into five parts. The first part delves into Leo's life as a child, living through his own brother's suicide and the ramifications of what this can do to a young child. By the end of Part 1, he has been through hell and back and is ready to begin his senior year of high school, where his mother is the principal and his father is a science teacher. Nobody can tell a story like Conroy and he excels in this part of the book. He tells of Leo's morning newspaper route and I swear no one could make a mundane task such as this sound so exhilerating. In this section, he also explains Leo's upbringing as a Catholic, with a mother who is an ex-nun and whose after newspaper route routine includes serving as an altarboy at morning mass every day. Having grown up going to Catholic elementary school with three brothers who were all altarboys, I could so relate to this part. I could almost smell Conroy's description when he says, "the smell of the Catholic world washed over me" as Leo is entering the church to serve mass.
Part 2 fast forwards to twenty years later when Leo is now working for the same newspaper he delivered every morning as a teenager. All of his friends are still with him and, as a reader, it is fun to catch up with what they have done with their lives. Part 3 finds them all heading out to San Francisco in search of one of the infamous eight who has gone missing. It is these two parts that fell short for me and I can't put my finger on the reason but trust me.....it will happen to you as well. At this point, I emailed that same friend and said I hope one of the later parts of the book brings me back to his life as a senior in high school because so far Conroy hadn't shed any light on those years. Conroy did not disappoint and, once again, writes a good section in Part 4 about this time in the friends' lives. The last section, Part 5, brings us up-to-date with all of them once again, in 1989, as they try to stave off the wind and rain of Hurricane Hugo, while at the same time trying to keep out of the line of fire of someone who is bent on killing them all.
Yes, you read right. Conroy has a killer in this book. This is the part that I just didn't get and didn't feel the need. There's so much I could write about this book but I have to remember that I'm writing a review and not an English paper. This is one author whose descriptions and storytelling I like much more than his dialogue (in this book at least). I felt the dialogue was a bit fatuous (for lack of a better word) and most times, I just didn't like the repartee between the characters.
But the best part of the book is about Charleston itself. Because many of these characters are hurting and Charleston is a city "who" can actually heal you. Let's face it -- Charleston is as real a person as the characters in this book are and, perhaps, as real as Pat Conroy himself. This book is a love affair with Charleston as much as it is a testament to James Joyce's Bloomsday. I finished this book and wanted to book the first flight out to South Carolina. But I also have to say that this book also says something about Conroy's life as a Catholic because he's obviously trying to lash out for something that might have happened to him or someone he knows. Again, growing up as a Catholic, I can totally feel his pain.
Is this a book I won't forget? -- Yes. Is this a book I would recommend to my friends? -- No. The reason is that I only recommend great books to my friends and this is just a "good book". Sad to say, it's just not vintage Conroy. But is he still one of my favorite authors of all time....the unequivocal answer is YES!!!
Is There Anything Sweeter Than Vengeance? --5 of 5 stars
At the beginning of every Christopher Reich story, I usually find myself wondering why I read this author's books because the first fifty pages make me so darn nervous. I guess the answer would be found in a similar question..."Why does someone ride a roller coaster?" They do so because it gives them the chills, a thrill and that sudden quiver of excitement. Well, I read Reich's books for the same reason and he is one author who has yet to disappoint me.
But my real question is.....how is Reich not on the tip of everyone's tongue when they talk about the best mystery/thriller authors out there? When this category comes up, readers always think of Connelly and Lehane and Finder. But guess what....it should be Connelly, Lehane, Finder AND Reich. In any other Reich review I've ever written, I usually talk about how I discovered him all on my own some years ago when he penned Numbered Account (a favorite). I've read everything since so I now consider myself not only a fan but an expert on this author.
Last year, he delighted his fans by starting a series with Dr. Jonathan Ransom as the main character. Working for Doctors Without Borders, he was the perfect protagonist as his job takes him around the world. But it wasn't just Jonathan we were following. It was also his wife Emma who, we found out in Rules of Deception, works for a secret US agency referred to as "Division". This agency does things even the CIA and FBI can't touch. "Deception" ended on such a note that Emma was forced to go into hiding while Jonathan returned to Africa, once again helping those in need. Vengeance finds them meeting up again in London but this will be no honeymoon for The Ransoms. Considering that this doctor is married to someone who is a secret spy/assassin means that their marriage is not going to include a white picket fence and a dog.
There is one thing I can say about Christopher Reich and that is you can never figure out where he is going with a story until HE decides you are going to get there. And, once you do arrive, he still confuses you to the point of wanting to email him and ask him exactly what is going on. You think you know how it ends, but you probably won't know if you're right until the next book comes out.
I'm a huge proponent of reading books in order and honestly feel that to really appreciate Rules of Vengeance, you should read Rules of Deception first. This way you can understand the relationship between husband and wife or, dare I say, mentor and apprentice. For it's hard for this doctor to be married to this woman and not have some of her expertise rub off on him. And it is this rubbing off that will save Jonathan's life as he escapes from the police when he is accused of doing something his wife has done. As everyone is searching for Emma Ransom (after she car bombed a Russian convoy), they feel the only way to catch up with her is to follow her husband. The chase is on and it's quite a ride as Jonathan has them traveling from country to country in Emma's pursuit. But while they just want to catch her, Jonathan wants to stop her as he realizes what her next assignment is.
Emma Ransom (although we find out this isn't even her real name) is so diabolical that I can't even imagine this marriage lasting past this book. As I was reading I was thinking, "how can these two even go out for dinner together." I can't imagine where Reich is going to take us in the next book in this series other than having Division recruit Jonathan as one of their own. He certainly has the skills.
So you did good by me Mr. Reich. For all you other reviewers out there, just know that this is one author who reads these reviews. He's great at taking constructive criticism but, as you can imagine, that is something that is not usually dished out on his behalf. Once again, I applaud you on another great one!!!