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Nowhere To Go Paperback – May 25, 2012
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"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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Rowan is in love with the twist, the exquisite gotcha moment when a story's premise is turned on its head and standard expectations are reversed in a heartbeat. Crime fiction, especially of the more psychological and less Hollywood-explosion variety, is a great genre for this and Rowan makes masterful use of the approach in several of the stories, including the stunning "One Step Closer," the eponymously titled story, and, what I think is the best of the collection, "The Chain." In the stories where you can see the twist coming down the pike, the reading is still enjoyable as you wait to see how Rowan is going to pull it off, even when you know the what.
Nowhere to Go also resonated with me because the language and structure of the stories is crisp, quick, and bold. There are no page-long introductions to setting or motive, no panning of scenes that bore us with superfluous detail. The reader is dropped directly into the action of the stories and has to keep up or risk getting left behind. And this is just all right with me. I'm personally tired of milquetoast writing that feels the need to describe each innermost thought of the characters right after cataloging their wardrobe. Give me a setting, a conflict, and let's get going.
If I have one criticism of Rowan's stories, it's that they're unrelievedly dark. Humor--even gallows humor--can be a nice foil to the (almost by definition) downer side of crime fiction. Some comedy could've lightened the collection up and given that extra "beat" in between darker stories that would've improved the collection as a whole. "Easy Job," especially, could've been taken down a humorous path and I was disappointed when it wasn't.
All in all, a thought-provoking and entertaining clutch of stories by someone who has honed their craft. I recommend Nowhere to Go for any crime fiction readers and look forward to reading more of Rowan's work...as long as he keeps it devilish.
Some random thoughts:
* At times reminded me of Ian McEwan's sometimes bizarre settings and/or situations that quickly become normalized and acceptable as you get pulled into the story.
* For American readers, the very British setting and some language will seem mildly exotic (especially "The Remains of My Estate") without getting in the way.
Every story in this collection is a gem but particular favourites are `One Of Us' and `The Remains Of My Estate', both of which a great examples of deftly written social realism. Other standouts are the chilling ` Chairman Of The Bored', `The Chain', a clever tale of blackmail and `One Step Closer', the story of a man in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But there really isn't a bad story in the bunch. Nowhere To Go is classy and clever Brit Grit at it's best.
Of the eleven stories here, my favourites were:
'One Step Closer' - great characterisation in a piece so short, and Rowan's sympathies with the *victims* of crime rather than the criminals themselves is on display in a story of a robbery gone wrong...
'One of Us' - the short story from which his excellent novel of the same name grew. Interesting to read it in its original form.
'The Chain' - quite simply because I did't predict the twist...
'Moths' - a side-order of Ice Age-esque weirdness in amidst the crime. The closing imagery is to die for.
'The Remains of My Estate' - a masterful description of a sink-estate and the loan-sharks who bleed it dry.
'Nowhere To Go' - another one with a hint of the supernatural; possibly my favourite and a great closing story.
Though all are very readable, not all of the stories are equally successful, and there are two instances where pairs of stories seem to be doing each much the same as the other: two stories of criminals getting their comeuppance because grossly underestimating their intended victims (both are good stories, though, with the second, "Easy Job", being pretty wonderful), and two stories of conmen playing upon their victims' greed (the first of these, "Two Nights' Work", is one of the jolliest stories herein -- I was reminded a little of the gusto of certain similar Roald Dahl tales). For me the two best stories are "Moths", which is the only dark fantasy in the book, and especially the collection's longest and most ambitious, "The Remains of My Estate". In the latter what impressed me was not so much the plot, although that's perfectly fine, but the unremitting depiction of the setting, a run-down urban hell where the cops barely dare intrude.
This collection was my introduction to Rowan's work. I'll be looking out for his name in future.