Friday, August 3, 2012

A Thousand Bayonets by Joel Mark Harris

TITLE: A Thousand Bayonets
AUTHOR: Joel Mark Harris
PUBLISHER/YEAR: iUniverse/2011
GENRE: Thriller
SOURCE: Goodreads First Reads Program

Goodreads / Author's Website

Up until this point I didn't realize how many thrillers I read. I don't get it. It's not a genre that particularly intrigues me and yet, here's another review of yet another thriller. A Thousand Bayonets by Joel Mark Harris doesn't necessarily follow the typical formula. The books actually kind of reminds me of a 1940s noir film more than anything. 

A Thousand Bayonets follows journalist John Webster who after returning from Afghanistan, begins covering the gang wars taking place in his hometown, Vancouver. He explores the city's gritty underbelly risking his personal safety along the way. As he gets pulled deeper into the criminal underworld; he's hunted by the gangsters and police alike. 

I'm not sure how I feel about this book. On the one hand, tough journalist takes on the institution to uncover crime and corruption is a favourite plot point of mine. Protagonists who never learn anything, are borderline alcoholics and are overall terrible humans also fantastic in my books (seriously, there's a reason I love old Bogart films), but I'm not sure if I liked these tropes in this setting. I know the city of Vancouver well and I'm predisposed to like stories set in the city, but I'm not sure if Vancouver meshed well with the noir film feel. It felt like there was disparity between the plot and the setting. Yes, Vancouver has more than its fair share of crime and yes, there is most certainly corruption, but the city's feel just didn't mesh with the writing style for me. I don't know how else to explain it.

My other issue may be with the genre itself. There were absolutely no positive female leads. The women were cracking or withholding. There's the ex-wife who prevents Webster from communicating with his son, the woman who works at a strip club for organized crime or the detective who's clearly inferior to her partner. Granted, all the characters are flawed. John Webster is an antihero who's on a quest that blinds him to all of his relationships. All the characters make mistakes and the story is told mainly from Webster's perspective so it makes sense that he is a more redeemable character. However, the perceived gender bias still managed to rub me the wrong way.

Other than these two issues (which I admit are bigger issues for me than they would be for a lot of other readers) the book was enjoyable. It was a fast paced plot, as a thriller should be and I really do love stories about hard hitting journalists. I loved the search. I loved flouting authority in favour of the truth. Honestly, Harris managed to pull out all of my favourite tropes, but kept them fresh and engaging in a modern context. It's a promising debut novel and I would pick up another book by Harris. Not my favourite, but definitely readable. 

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