Friday, September 18, 2009

Don't Look Back by Josh Lanyon

TITLE: Don’t Look Back
AUTHOR: Josh Lanyon
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 34k)
GENRE: Gay suspense erotic romance
COST: $4.99

A brutal attack puts Peter Killian in the hospital, but when he wakes up to a cop sitting at his bedside, and questions about his potential involvement in a major theft at the museum he runs, Peter is left without answers. Literally. His memory surrounding the events and portions of his past is completely gone, but as he struggles to return to his life, Detective Michael Griffin is there everywhere he turns around. The screws are tightening, evidence piling up that Peter really is involved, and he races to uncover the truth, and hopefully his memory along with it…

I find myself walking a fine line when it comes to amnesia stories. Some of my favorite stories have started in the same manner as this one, with the protagonist waking in a hospital with amnesia (like Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber). It’s an excellent device to immediately put the reader in the main character’s shoes. You learn the story and history at the same time he/she does. However, I’ve also discovered that to enjoy it the most, the execution requires a delicate touch. Often times, the plot device can become an easy excuse or provide a crutch when the story or characterization falters. Don’t Look Back borders on that edge for me.

Peter is not quite a blank slate when he wakes up, but he’s certainly fragile and lost enough to garner immediate sympathy. He’s thrust into the center of all these incidents, with little clue how to get himself out of them, and eventually only makes his situation worse as he tries. I liked Peter, though in all honesty, I found him quite bland for the first two-thirds of the story. The blank slate he’d been given, with a life he wasn’t sure he liked, was a little too blank for me, and I found the people surrounding him a lot more colorful and interesting for the most part. His friends Roma and Jessica leap off the page when he blends into the woodwork, and Griffin has complexities from the start that intrigue me more than Peter ever did. When I finally did start learning more about Peter and his past, I found that I didn’t really like him very much. I don’t want to spoil the story. Suffice it to say, I found a lot of his previous actions and motivations too wishy-washy for me to really root for.

Griffin, on the other hand, presents as the other enigma to decipher, though I guessed the full story about him nearly from his introduction. That was part of one of the reasons I can’t love this particular novella. The suspense and mystery never succeeded for me as so much of it felt telegraphed from the start. Even the climax felt rushed and convenient, though to be fair, since so much of this story is about Peter and his search for self, the suspense aspect takes a back seat.

It’s certainly not a bad story. Lanyon is too skilled a storyteller for that to happen. His prose, as always, is thoroughly readable and engaging, with just enough clarity of detail to make descriptions crackle. But it failed to reach that something special status that so many other Lanyon stories have for me. I think it felt…safe. In a story meant to keep the protagonist and me as the reader on edge, that’s not necessarily the best thing.


9/10 – Lanyon’s very readable prose makes it a swift and easy read

Hero #1

7/10 – The amnesia felt like a too easy excuse that kept the character a little bland for me until close to the end

Hero #2

7/10 – Harder to get a finger on, though I actually liked him more than I liked the protagonist

Entertainment value

7/10 – Solid entertainment, but I saw most of the surprises coming from almost the beginning

World building

8/10 – Credible and realistic



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