Billy Strobe

Thursday, January 06, 2005

I just two hours ago finished this book that I found in my stocking Dec. 25. I admit I not only didn't hold out any hope for it, but wasn't even sure I'd read it. The book was John Martel's Billy Strobe, a book about a law student put in prison for insider trading who completes his degree in prison and sets out to clear the name of his father and of a man he met on the inside. So it got marks for originality. But it was also compared to Grisham right on the cover, an author I've never read and never really had much interest in. But, I'd finished Pattern Recognition over Christmas, and The Giver (an interesting children's novel even if it made me cringe inside thinking of the delight with which this book would be put into the American school curriculum as anti-communist doctrine) had only taken an evening.

So I was without a book and decided to read it anyway. The first chapter or two did not bode well. The book starts with the backstory, as always, and you're brought to the present, where Billy concludes that his last few years will be tougher than the first. Given that he's now been arrested. SHOCK! I didn't read the synopsis at the back. He's in jail?! Then it jumps back from the present again to why he's in jail, he gets into a car with some rich kids and they plot this scheme. Retelling this story, he digresses to say something about his father being framed, which he promises to get to later. And you can just see the publisher thinking that this is hooking the reader and meanwhile all I can think is that I'm not the least bit interested and could you please get to the actual story?

So I read the first two chapters and put it down no problem. The next night, I thought, well, I'll read a little more before I abandon all hope. And suddenly, once the awkwardness of the backstory had faded to legend and then myth in my considerably short memory, it started to get interesting. Quite interesting.

I'll admit that I found the characterization lacking development and at times believability at certain points in the book, but that was won out by an otherwise well crafted story and well developed plot. I literally couldn't put it down. Ironically, I had no problem putting down Pattern Recognition, which I loved, but this book which I'm at best conflicted about, was, to coin a phrase that I definitely invented, a page turner.

And at the end of the day, I left myself with the age old question of art vs entertainment. I really enjoyed the two books on completely different levels, and I suppose that's enough. Sometimes it's nice to read a book that is just fun and really draws you in, even if there's nothing much below the surface. And sometimes it's nice to read a book that maybe doesn't leave you enraptured but perhaps gives you pause or causes the mental activity LED to light.

So, with it clearly stated that this book is all about entertainment and that even then it is far from perfect, I still can recommend it as a borrower. If you want an entertaining book that's worth a buy and I can virtually guarantee you haven't read, try Timothy Zahn's Icarus Hunt. A detective novel in space, and quite the "page turner" to boot.


the_dutch said...

I had to read The Giver in 8th grade. Loved it! Children's books are often just right. I recommend Mrs. Frisby & The Rats of NIMH.

Dean said...

Yeah, I read Rats of Nimh in grade 7, and then we watched the cartoon movie. Good times.