Three Weeks to Say Goodbye by C J Box

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Three Weeks to Say Goodbye by C J Box

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Category: Crime
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: An interesting scenario and sustained action, but this fails to overcome poor characterisation and a penchant for violence.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 356 Date: December 2009
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-1848872912

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Three Weeks to Say Goodbye is narrated by Jack McMcGuane, who describes himself as a hard-working, regular guy (more of that in a minute though). Nine months previously, he and his wife Melissa had adopted a baby girl, Angelina, when their world is shattered by a telephone call from the adoption agency to say that there has been a mistake on the forms and the teenage biological father had not signed his consent and now wants to take the baby back. Even worse news is that the boy's father is an influential federal judge. They have, you've guessed it, three weeks to say goodbye to their daughter.

It is quickly established that there is no legal recourse for the unfortunate adopted parents and, assisted by Jack's boyhood friends, a renegade cop (Cody) and a gay property developer (Brian) they set about trying to 'persuade' the boy (Garrett) to sign the papers. There's a paedophile theme and lots of gang violence along the way.

I have no idea of the legal accuracy of the adoption scenario, but this isn't explored at all. The adoption agency issue is quickly dropped and what could have been a tale of 'when bad things happen to good people', fails for me as Jack's first reaction to almost any situation is to think of violence. He makes Grant Mitchell look like Mahatma Gandhi at times.

Box admirably wants to get on with the plot, but that means that there is no setting up of a nice family unit that might evoke some sympathy for the character and his plight. Frankly, while the Judge and Garrett are clearly despicable, I'm not sure little Angelina is that much better off with a father who is constantly thinking of the Colt .45 Peacemaker (was there ever a more inappropriate product name?) that he purloined from his grandfather. It annoyed me so much, I wanted to shoot him (oh, sorry, it's catching!)

The author is an award winning writer and best seller in the US but this is his attempt to crack the UK market, and I would suggest that this may be an uphill struggle for him on this evidence. The thought struck me that much of the problem may be cultural - in the parts of the States where this book is set (Denver and Montana) good people do carry and use guns - it is their 'inalienable right' - but to a British audience, he comes across as a bit of a maniac and hence there is no sympathy for him. It's a depressing thought.

Then there's the obligatory Brit who you just know is going to be one of the bad guys - it's all a bit cliche and you would have thought that if you were trying to crack the UK market, you might have started with a book that doesn't conform to this stereotype. At one point there is also a quite bizarre Margaret Thatcher quote - given the paedophile theme, I wondered if Mr Box had thought her problems related to a 'Minors's strike'.

The style is very staccato - lots of short sentences, and at one point Cody Hoyt refers to his own uncle as 'Jeter Hoyt'. Now come on, who refers to their own relations using their family name as well? The characterisation is weak throughout, but it's the violence that is one of the main problems - there's a lot of it and it's often quite gratuitous.

On the plus side, Box does keep the suspense and mystery going until the end (although even here, the story only unravels when Cody drags in a character who explains it all in the final few pages). For me, the times when Box's writing starts to lift is in his descriptions of the landscape. He's written a whole series of books about an outdoor game warden and I wonder if these are more his forte. There is a tantalising glimpse of stronger writing in the final chapter too. I can, however, imagine this book as a Hollywood movie - it already has the requisite bad-guy-Brit part in place. But it would have to be 18 rated due to the violence.

I would, nevertheless, like to thank the people at Corvus for inviting The Bookbag to review this book.

If your desire for violence and peadophilia hasn't been satiated by this book, reading isn't going to help, you need professional help. A wholly different book dealing with adoption is The Battle for Christabel by Margaret Forster while a more wholesome view of the good folk of Montana can be found in The Selected Works of T S Spivet by Reif Larsen.

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