Sunday, March 6, 2011

"Three Weeks To Say Goodbye" by C.J. Box

Jack and Melissa McGuane are the parents of adopted nine-month-old baby Angelina, since they are unable to have children of their own. However, an unlikely legal snafu has occurred in that the birth father - a snotty over-privileged 18 year old called Garrett - never signed away his rights. Conveniently, his father is the powerful Judge John Moreland, and there's no question of who will get custody. The title refers to the amount of time Jack and Melissa have before handing over the baby, and to find out why the Judge and his son want to get hold of Angelina so desperately, since it's clear that Garrett has no interest in looking after her. They soon find they're willing to go to any lengths to hold on to their child.

The bond that exists between the parents and their daughter is the glue that holds together this otherwise ridiculous thriller. Box seems to be aiming for the same sort of territory as Harlan Coben and Linwood Barclay, in which ordinary people go to extraordinary lengths to defend their family and loved ones. However, he seems to lose grip of what would really make for a tense and exciting story and instead lets the narrative veer off into all sorts of bizarre and unlikely scenarios. One of the more intriguing elements involves Garrett basically knowing he has the parents by the balls - they're willing to do anything in the hope he might sign away his parental rights. Garrett is portrayed as a sociopath, and it's not clear why he doesn't exploit this situation to its full advantage. After some juvenile pranking and one nasty act, he pretty much disappears from the plot. A really gripping thriller could have been fashioned from the vise he has Jack and Melissa trapped in. Instead, the writer seems more interested in exploring the moral consequences of good people being forced to do bad things. This is all well and good, but the situations the characters find themselves in to bring them to that point of questioning their actions are so ludicrous that it all becomes rather moot. For example, the sequence in which Jack, Melissa and their detective friend Cody Hoyt call upon Cody's crazy uncle Jeter to "scare" Garrett into signing the papers results in a bar shoot-out that leaves several dead, but has no impact on the plot other than for Jack to question his morals over standing by and watching it go down.

The themes of grief and personal loss are also muddied by the ending in which Melissa is left sedated at home while Jack and Cody gather up the "guys" for some justified vengeance. Rather than using the mountain of evidence they have which would easily put everybody away, it instead becomes a macho gung-ho mission in which Jack can further examine his slide into moral questionability as he shoots and kills a bad guy - simply for that purpose! Putting the focus on the antagonistic relationship between Jack, Melissa and Garrett could have explored moral choices in the same way - what would they be willing to do to both keep a sociopath happy and keep their baby? Instead, we get a convoluted conspiracy mystery filled with non-sensical events and actions (why does Jack keep calling the judge and giving away his game plan?), capped off with a suspenseless, underwhelming shoot-out.

C.J. Box is a good writer in that he creates believable, likeable characters that quickly get you on side. He shows skill in being able to manipulate the reader's emotions. But the situations he creates to do this go too far beyond the realm of credibility and frequently don't make any sense. Which is a pity, since the premise of this one showed so much promise.

No comments:

Post a Comment