The Ottoman Motel by Christopher Currie
|The Ottoman Motel by Christopher Currie|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: C E Stanway|
|Summary: 11 year old Simon Sawyer's parents go missing in the strange town of Reception. Their disappearance is a catalyst for the town's secrets to be revealed.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: March 2013|
|Publisher: Sandstone Press Ltd|
Simon Sawyer is 11 years old, forced on a road-trip with his parents to visit his grandmother, Iris. Iris is living in some backwater town hemmed in on three sides by corn fields, and on the fourth by the sea. The town is called Reception in a heavy-handed attempt at irony, as we learn the town actually has no reception for mobile phones and is pretty much isolated from the rest of the world but for a few dirt tracks leading out.
The long, claustrophobic automobile journey towards Reception is an excellent device to bring the three characters' prominent features into relief. Simon is at that tender age between childhood and puberty, when he disdains his parents but is still dependent on them. His mother is neurotic and irritating, and his father a rather false and sycophantic character; together they run a mail-order cosmetics company. Simon does not remember his grandmother and does not know why they are going to visit her. This is the mysterious and restless setting The Ottoman Motel opens with.
After entering Reception and booking into the town's only motel, The Ottoman, Simon's parents decide to visit the town's scenic lake for an early evening stroll. They leave the petulant and tired Simon behind. When he wakes the next morning, they have not returned. They will never return: Simon's parents have vanished.
Gradually I realised as chapter after chapter passed that this novel is no thriller, and more like a candle-flame of a mystery instead of a full blown house fire. The disappearance of Simon's parents is used as a catalyst to unravel the hidden dynamics and dark secrets of the town. Reception itself, a character in its own right, is comprised of lone houses, the police station, the sea and the lake, a B&B and eponymous Ottoman Motel, which also doubles as the town's pub after hours.
The first port of call after the alarm on the Sawyers' disappearance is raised is the town's self-doubting cop, Madaline, and her lazy retiring in three months boss, Tommy. Following procedure, they instigate a missing person's investigation but, due to the incompetence of the small-town police force, it is filled with vague inertia.
Simon's grandmother, Iris, lives in a B&B owned by a man called Ned Gale. A decent kind of guy, he offers Simon a roof over his head and a hot meal. His children, Gin and Audrey, provide some interaction for Simon, as does another of the Ottoman's residents, the enigmatic teenager Pony. Ned's wife and the mother of the Gale brood, Stephanie, disappeared several years ago.
She was never found, and no explanation was discovered for her to have vanished so suddenly. Secretly, police officer Madaline blames herself - always wondering if she could have tried more, if her feelings towards Ned clouded her judgement and swayed her hand. She sees a chance for redemption in the Sawyer case, as in her mind the two disappearances are undoubtedly connected.
The mixture of tension and fear in the town extends to the locals. As it is the tourist off-season, it is mostly comprised of fishermen and pub staff who decided to stick around. Crab-catcher Jack Tarden spoke to the Sawyers in the pub when they arrived and even suggested they go up to the lake for a stroll - likely he was the last person (excluding Simon) to see them before their disappearance. Tarden, an ex-con, is a loner, even though he lives with the spiteful and unpredictable Robbie Kuiper, whom he met in prison. Despite having some kind of sexual relationship with Kuiper, he also has intimate ties to Simon's grandmother, Iris.
The story is told in third-person through the eyes of these three very different characters: Simon, so young and erratic with grief; Tarden, always walking the line of temptation separating a good life from a bad one; and Madaline, remorseful and uncertain of her ability to do her job properly.
The most engaging aspect of The Ottoman Motel was not only seeing these characters interact and develop, but the level of detail and description going into their habits and surroundings. Currie has an exquisite way of conveying small details, such as the quivering of palm fronds or the dripping rainwater off the eaves, that sets the mood perfectly.
There is a double edged sword to this level of description, however, and my main complaint with this novel is that it has so much potential - compelling characters, unnerving setting, a mystery element introduced early on - but it fails to deliver on the overall solution and pretty much every subplot that develops along the way. For example, immediately in the first chapter we learn that the town of Reception, despite the name, is all but cut off technologically. I kept expecting every twist in the story to feature this in some way - but it didn't. Likewise there are several tangents touched upon but never fully concluded. It seems like Currie got too wrapped up in the details and forgot the big picture some where along the way.
My second biggest complaint is not necessarily on Currie's head. As soon as I started reading I noticed several mistakes: missing spaces, parenthesis left open, capital letters missing, misuse of apostrophes, once even a random symbol in the middle of a sentence of dialogue (tell me, how does one pronounce '^'?). At first I started to make a note of page numbers but it quickly became too bothersome, as the mistakes are so frequent.
More than that, there are some sections I felt needed to be cut, or at least reworked. To be frank, this is a poorly edited piece of work. As Currie has spoken against e-books in the past, I find it damning that his debut is riddled with errors, much like a mediocre Kindle self-pub.
Obviously some may be able to overlook this, but in a book where building tension is paramount, I found it both distracting and deflating.
There are several excellent themes utilised in The Ottoman Motel: small-town paranoia, running away from the past and isolation, both physical and psychological. Despite the protagonist's young age, this is definitely not a children's book, due to scenes of violence and use of bad language.
I am torn between recommending this and advising readers to stay away, but if you can deal with unresolved mysteries and poor editing, The Ottoman Motel does have a lot to offer in terms of atmosphere and description. I did enjoy reading it, but sadly I cannot overlook its glaring faults.
If this book appeals then you might like to try Salt of Their Blood by Gerald Wixey
You can read more book reviews or buy The Ottoman Motel by Christopher Currie at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Ottoman Motel by Christopher Currie at Amazon.com.
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