City of Strangers by Ian Mackenzie

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City of Strangers by Ian Mackenzie

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Melanie Allen
Reviewed by Melanie Allen
Summary: A literary thriller that tackles the sense of alienation and misunderstanding within a city, and within a family. Accomplished writing and an enjoyable read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: May 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099531852

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Paul Metzger – mid thirties, with a failed marriage, a broken relationship with his brother (who converted to Judaism), and a dying father (who is an ex-Nazi). Straight away there are obvious flaws with his family dynamic. As his writing career fails to take off he's left to churn out thousands of words for articles that have no meaning to him, the dregs of the publishing world. His life isn't quite as high flying as he hoped. But then Paul gets offered a lucrative book deal; the one thing he has wanted for years. The only catch is he has to write about his father.

New York becomes a place full of missed opportunities and lies, and Paul is completely alienated from the city. A vicious attack in an alleyway one night only confirms that the city holds as many secrets as his family does. As well as wrestling with idea of agreeing to the book deal, essentially selling his father's story to pay his bills, one of the guys from the attack starts to stalk Paul.

City of Strangers is as bleak as it is thrilling, and unfolds in a steady, surprising way – each new turn sheds just that little bit of information on the characters that help keep it a convincing read. Alienation and misunderstanding are key aspects of the novel, and Mackenzie tackles them well. Yet occasionally, in his attempt to show this alienation, he distances the reader – from the story and from the narrator, Paul.

Despite the harsh, dark, and cold realities of the city that Mackenzie depicts, there are moments off really beautiful writing; for example, the description of how Paul first met his ex-wife and the almost idyllic romantic affair that their relationship started out as. Of course this moment of perfection is quickly clouded by arguments, and it becomes clear that Mackenzie really does prefer indulging himself writing about misery than happiness. And who can blame him, he does it well.

Although the writing, in my opinion, can hardly be faulted, I found it hard to pigeon-hole the book into a particular genre. It was the plot of a psychological thriller confused with the style of literary fiction. The 'literary thriller' is not a genre I've ever really come across before, but I've got to admit, it surpassed any expectations I had. For most of the first chapter I felt a little confused about how to categorise it. Here was an author who clearly had a talented way with words, and the ability to create strong characters and a sense of place very quickly; even in the first few sentences, about a hazy Sunday morning in the city, you can immediately conjure up the back stories for the situations he describes.

Yet I was thinking in crime-thriller mode. I had been expecting more action or mystery, and it seemed to miss that a bit. Instead, it concentrated well on the very realistic, but fragile, relationship between the characters, and had a slightly brooding quality about the writing, that was atmospheric, but seemed misplaced at times.

Overall, I think the combination of styles worked well. At times it seemed a little forced, but that did not detract from the enjoyment of the novel – I liked it for the writing rather than the plot.

If this book seems appealing, then why not look at All That I Have by Castle Freeman.

I would like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

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Buy City of Strangers by Ian Mackenzie at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy City of Strangers by Ian Mackenzie at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy City of Strangers by Ian Mackenzie at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy City of Strangers by Ian Mackenzie at


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