Ravens by George Dawes Green

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Ravens by George Dawes Green

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Not the basic family-in-peril thriller this might appear to be, but a lot more besides. In trying to leap such a high hurdle the author does knock his knees a little, but this does read well.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Sphere
ISBN: 978-1847442888

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Shaw and Romeo are two friends, moving across country for a new life, when they stumble upon Nowheresville, GA, and find that one family has just had the only winning lottery ticket for a $318million jackpot. The family involved is very average - slightly ineffectual father, mother who gets geared up for the weekly lottery and descends into a gin fug as a result, girl stuck on Facebook, boy glued to a PSP or something. There are enough gaps within the family for the pair of guys to break in between them, and have them under threat for half the winnings.

This is not, however, just a thriller of a kidnap, with Shaw holding guard of 'his' share of the prize from within the household, and Romeo trying his best to act a loose, psychotic cannon, driving round the neighbourhood, with one of the outlying family members - such as the daughter's beloved gran - in his sights. Certainly there is a lot here of a family in peril, but plenty else besides - this can be seen as a slightly odd way to see life with a little bit of greed added. Shaw turns messianic, the family get spiritual (even the lad puts down his computer game, at some undefined point), and things escalate with the public awareness of the win.

So here we learn about the baddies, the goodies, the town they live in, the religion, greed, love, life and more. It's a deep book, then. It also has a fine way in portraying average America - so many people are noticeably average-looking - someone will witness a new character and find a good quality to their looks, the next will find them ugly. I don't intend to say this is forced, neither is the obvious fact that so few of the characters here are likeable - some I really have to wonder whether George Dawes Green really wanted to write, they cross the line from good to bad so.

This read can be really quite scathing in its mixed morality, with so many variable, varied characters burgeoning through the smog of good and bad greyness. It has a few twinges of the unusual - the first encounter with the family bodyguard and the introduction of the fairground seem to have lost something in editing (and to be picky, why does Romeo need to walk back from Clio's big scene?).

But this is a short book about killing, a short book about love, and a deep and rich volume with a lot to say about the society it's set in, making this a very literary kind of thriller. Without sounding derogatory, I think the likes of Harlan Coben would start where this begins - a chancer finding too much about his money ticket with the help of Facebook and Myspace, and going from there; whereas this reads much more like the author started with a grand, ultimate fighting grudge match between America, her God, and Mammon, with all the salient details fitted in well.

This doesn't read as successfully as I think the author wanted it to, and it doesn't quite match with the publisher's brouhaha concerning the fact it's well over a decade since the author's only other book, but with a readable, clear and crisp morass of quality quandaries, for plenty of different characters, this is well worth four stars, with a little added on for ambition.

I would rate this a 15-certificate for both a couple of short, mild sex scenes, the occasional bit of violence, and for copious strong words. I dare say there'll be a film version out soon to prove me right.

I must thank the nice people at Sphere for my review copy.

For more small-town America, with added police procedural, you might struggle to best Bone by Bone by Carol O'Connell.

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Buy Ravens by George Dawes Green at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ravens by George Dawes Green at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Ravens by George Dawes Green at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ravens by George Dawes Green at Amazon.com.


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